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Coronavirus

Philippines to try 'localized' lockdowns as businesses bleed

Metro Manila restrictions to be eased as daily infections hit record high

A health worker vaccinates a public transport driver against COVID-19 at a drive-thru vaccination site in Quezon City, Metro Manila, on Aug. 13.   © Reuters

MANILA -- The Philippines will pilot "localized lockdowns" in the capital starting Sept. 8, as the government eases COVID-19 restrictions amid clamor from businesses.

Metro Manila, home to 13 million people, has been under stricter community quarantine restrictions since Aug. 6 to fight the spread of the delta variant. The government has imposed stay-at-home orders, while businesses like salons and gyms have been forced to close and restaurants are limited to delivery service.

Those restrictions were previously lifted under "general community quarantine," the new classification for Metro Manila starting Wednesday until Sept. 30, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Monday.

"Localized lockdowns will pilot in Metro Manila," Roque said.

The Department of Health on Monday also reported that daily infection tally hit a record 22,415, the fourth consecutive day that daily cases are above 20,000. This brings the total cases to 2.1 million with 34,337 deaths. The department also reported increase in the seven-day moving average in Metro Manila.

Roque said guidelines for the localized lockdown will be released Tuesday. "The granular lockdown does not have to be an entire village. It can be a street. It can be a house. It can be a community," Roque said.

"It will literally be a complete lockdown if you are subject to granular lockdown. Even the food will be delivered to areas covered by granular lockdown," he added.

President Rodrigo Duterte's administration has been under pressure to relax restrictions, which could deal a further blow to the economy ahead of the elections next year, in which he plans to run for vice president.

Businesses have also opposed longer lockdowns. "The COVID-19 pandemic is a pharmaceutical problem, while lockdown is a militaristic solution. Our economy is disfigured after many protracted lockdowns, yet the spread of COVID continues," Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry acting President Edgardo Lacson said last month.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez has also advocated targeted lockdowns, while Duterte's adviser for entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion has called for easing of restrictions on vaccinated individuals.

"Under the granular lockdown, businesses will be allowed to operate based on guidelines ... with some restrictions," Lopez told radio station DZBB over the weekend.

Nicholas Antonio Mapa, a senior economist at ING Bank Manila, said the move toward granular lockdown comes as "the recession threatens to devolve further into a full-blown depression."

"It remains to be seen whether such moves will be effective in jolting the economy back to life while keeping daily infections from surging," Mapa said.

Ella Hermonio contributed to this report

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