THE GOVERNMENT would probably ease the lockdown in Metro Manila and nearby cities starting June 1, Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año said on Tuesday as the government tries to restart the economy that a coronavirus pandemic has brought to a near standstill.

“It is possible that up to May 31, the modified enhanced community quarantine will be loosened and might go into a general community quarantine,” he told an online news briefing.

He added that there was a proposal to classify areas into zones, allowing villages to keep a stricter lockdown if needed.

Metro Manila mayors were expected to come out with a recommendation last night.

Presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque said an inter-agency task force against the COVID-19 would discuss the matter and announce a decision on Wednesday.

“The important thing is we will look at the doubling rate, the critical care capacity, and of course the attention to our economy,” he said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte locked down Luzon island in mid-March, suspending work, classes and public transportation to contain the pandemic. The lockdown in some areas have since been relaxed, while Metro Manila remains under an altered quarantine until the end of the month, where some businesses have been allowed with minimal workforce.

Meanwhile, economic losses from the two-month lockdown in Metro Manila could have hit P740.35 billion, according to a study by the De La Salle University.

“In terms of economic losses, the entire country is said to lose P740.35 billion just from the Metro Manila enhanced community quarantine alone,” La Salle Professor Krista Danielle S. Yu said at an online forum.

Ms. Yu said the trade sector could have lost P235 billion, accounting for a third of the total losses.

Manufacturing could have lost P158 billion, private services P105 billion and finance P55 billion, she said.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia cited the need to boost the capacity of the country’s healthcare system.

“We were caught flat-footed with the woefully inadequate health system capacity in the face of this COVID-19 pandemic,” Mr. Pernia said at the forum.

He said the government should seek to attract medical practitioners and scientists who have left the country for better opportunities abroad. — Gillian M. Cortez and Luz Wendy T. Noble