Philippines defers easing, keeps Metro Manila's Covid-19 curbs

Metro Manila will remain under the "modified enhanced community quarantine". PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (BLOOMBERG) - The Philippine authorities have deferred easing restrictions on public movement in the capital region, keeping the current Covid-19 curbs potentially through Sept 15, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said on Tuesday (Sept 7).

Stocks and the peso fell.

Metro Manila, an area that accounts for about a third of the Philippine economy, will remain under the second-toughest restrictions on movement - called "modified enhanced community quarantine" - Mr Roque said in a statement.

Restaurants are limited to takeaway and delivery business, and beauty salons and spas are shut, he said.

The current condition will be kept until Sept 15, or sooner, if a pilot programme that features targeted lockdowns in specific hot spots gets under way before then, according to the statement.

Mr Eric Teng was preparing to welcome his restaurants' first dine-in customers in weeks on Wednesday when the Philippine government suddenly backtracked on its decision to ease virus curbs.

"It's unacceptable, but we have to live by these overnight declarations," said Mr Teng, who runs a group of restaurants including Mango Tree and Cocina Peruvia in Manila.

"That's a live-or-die statement for us. Like any business, we need as much stability as possible, not these abrupt statements, abrupt directives."

The economic impact of a week of second-strictest movement restrictions in the capital and nearby areas is 74 billion pesos (S$2 billion), Economic Planning Secretary Karl Chua told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Gross domestic product will recover to pre-pandemic level by the end of next year or early 2023, he said.

The announcement is a retreat from a planned loosening of restrictions and a shift to targeted lockdowns in the capital region, which was supposed to start on Sept 8.

The peso weakened for a fourth day, losing as much as 0.3 per cent against the US dollar early on Wednesday, while the benchmark Philippine Stock Exchange index declined as much as 0.7 per cent, among the biggest drops in Asia.

Daily cases in the Philippines have been increasing by near records in recent days, bringing the total to more than 2.1 million as of Tuesday. Strict lockdowns have destroyed jobs and damped consumption.

The government last month cut the economic growth outlook for this year after tighter restrictions, including in the capital region, were imposed due to the Delta variant.

Elsewhere in Asia, governments from Singapore to New Zealand have in some cases reversed decisions to loosen restrictions when facing local virus flareups.

Mr Boyet Agaton, a 51-year-old barber, was among those eagerly awaiting the time when he could resume his job. He thoroughly cleaned his scissors and tools on Tuesday in anticipation of working again at Bruno's Barbers.

"I'm so dismayed," Mr Agaton said. "When there's no work, there's no pay."

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