Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte wary of total economic reopening as coronavirus cases rise

A shopper exits from a disinfection channel installed at the entrance of a shopping mall in Manila on May 16, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (BLOOMBERG) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he will "have to be very circumspect in reopening the economy" given the spike in coronavirus cases, while his finance chief said that the nation need not choose between health and livelihood.

The firebrand leader said he can't emulate the "devil-may-care attitude" of Presidents Donald Trump of the US and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil because the Philippines is poor.

"We cannot afford really a total epidemic or pandemonium," he said in an address on Wednesday (July 8), adding that economic reopening will be done gradually.

The Philippines will continue to limit the number of people that can go out, Mr Duterte said, encouraging Filipinos to remain patient.

The nation has the second-highest number of infections in South-east Asia after Indonesia, and has the fastest rise in cases since June 1 when the capital region reopened.

The President's comments came after both Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and central bank governor Benjamin Diokno backed a further easing of virus curbs to reignite an economy facing its deepest contraction in three decades.

"While health measures are absolutely necesssary for us to fight this pandemic, increasing economic activity in a responsible manner is a matter of national survival and priority," Mr Dominguez said in a forum on Wednesday after the president's remarks.

The capital region and surrounding provinces account for two-thirds of the Philippines' economy, and it is "vital" that they are allowed to reopen and people go back to work.

"Health and livelihood is not a binary choice. We must protect lives in ways that don't prevent us from earning a living," he said.

The coronavirus cases in the country climbed by 1,540 to 47,873 on Tuesday, including 1,309 deaths.

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