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Philippines may remain under lockdown after vaccine rollout

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PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

MANY parts of the country would probably remain under a lockdown even after the government starts vaccinating Filipinos against the coronavirus, according to the presidential palace.

Easing quarantines would depend on the recommendations of health authorities, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles told reporters via Zoom Cloud Meetings on Wednesday.

“Quarantines won’t be immediately relaxed once the vaccines are rolled out,” he said in Filipino. “Once the vaccines take effect and cases fall, we will consider easing the quarantines.”

The Philippines is expected to receive more than 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Inc. this quarter under a global initiative for equal access. These will be given to about 56,000 health frontliners.

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About 9.2 million doses of vaccines developed by AstraZeneca Plc are also expected to arrive in the first half.

The Cordillera Administrative Region in northern Philippines was placed under a general community quarantine this month, joining Metro Manila and other cities with high rates of coronavirus infections after a new coronavirus strain was detected there.

The lockdowns in most parts of the country have been eased.

Metro Manila mayors earlier urged the government to keep the region under a general lockdown even after the first batch of vaccines are given out, Navotas Mayor Tobias M. Tiangco said this week.

Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez has been pushing for a gradual easing of quarantines to boost consumer spending and business activity.

He said relaxing the lockdown in the capital region would help the Philippine economy recover faster.

The government was unlikely to hit its growth targets this year unless lockdowns were eased further, Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said earlier.

Policymakers had been unable to balance the health risks and the impact of strict quarantines on economic output because they were risk-averse, he said.

Mr. Chua said he expects Metro Manila and other provinces to shift to a modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) soon.

He said President Rodrigo R. Duterte would probably make an informed decision on the lockdowns once he sees both the latest health and economic data. He added that age restrictions during the lockdown should be eased “anytime soon.”

The economy fell into its worst recession since World War II last year as output contracted by 9.5%. This year, the government expects the economy to grow by 6.5% to 7.5%.

Mr. Chua said the rollout of coronavirus vaccines this year would probably boost consumer and business confidence.

Mr. Duterte last month recalled a decision by an inter-agency task force (IATF) to let minors as young as 10 years to go out and visit malls, citing the risk from a new coronavirus strain first detected in the United Kingdom.

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