MANILA — The Philippines plans to allow more businesses, including cinemas and public attractions, to reopen or expand their operations soon, as the country moves to revive its pandemic-hit economy, the presidential spokesman said on Friday.
The Southeast Asian country has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the region, but Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said improving hospital capacity provided room to ease more curbs.
“We don’t have problems when it comes to (hospital) utilization rates. The reality is we need to reopen the economy because we need more jobs,” Roque told a regular briefing.
From one of Asia’s fastest growing nations before the pandemic, the Philippines suffered its worst economic decline in 2020 as a strict coronavirus lockdown shuttered businesses and put millions out of work.
The reopening of businesses including in areas in the capital Manila will be guided by health and safety rules and capacity limits that will be set by regulators and local government units, Roque said.
Businesses and public attractions that will be allowed to resume operations include driving schools, video and interactive-game arcades, libraries, museums, parks, theme parks, and historical landmarks.
Roque also said more people will be allowed to attend religious services from Feb. 15.
The Manila region, which accounts for 40% of the country’s economic output and is home to at least 12 million people, remains the epicenter for the outbreak in the Philippines, which has recorded 543,282 COVID-19 cases, including 11,469 deaths.
The government aims to start its coronavirus vaccination program in four public hospitals in Manila this month using shots secured through the COVAX international vaccine-sharing facility, which the governments expects to receive soon.
Authorities aim to inoculate 70 million, or two-thirds of the country’s more than 108 million people this year. —Reporting by Karen Lema Editing by Ed Davies