Duterte Wants Vaccinations Before Further Easing Virus Curbs

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will wait for the roll out of the coronavirus vaccines before placing the nation under the loosest mobility restrictions, bucking his chief economic planner’s proposal. Stocks fell.

Duterte “gives higher premium to public health and safety” even as reopening the economy is important, his spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement Monday. The president wants the vaccination program to start soon to ease current mobility curbs, Roque said.

The Philippines’ benchmark stock index fell as much as 1.1% Tuesday, poised for its lowest close since January 29.

The Southeast Asian nation, which has the second-highest coronavirus cases in the region, expects its first vaccine shipment from Sinovac Biotech Ltd. possibly within days after its regulators approved Chinese developer’s shot on Monday.

“Moving to relax restrictions will have only a modest impact on overall spending as the more likely impediment to consumption is the lack of consumer confidence,” said Nicholas Mapa, economist at ING Groep NV in Manila. “The one true antidote to the lack of confidence would be the vaccine procured by the government as this would generate GDP momentum via increased government expenditure while simultaneously curing Filipinos’ anxiety tied to catching the virus.”

Economic managers will devise ways to further reopen the economy without having to shift to the loosest quarantine, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a virtual briefing Tuesday. Economic Planning Secretary Karl Chua earlier said easing restrictions will help the economy recover from last year’s record slump.

Metro Manila, the nation’s capital region that accounts for about a third of the economy, is currently under the second loosest restriction, where many businesses can operate and mass gatherings are prohibited. The nation recorded its highest daily infections since November on Monday.

Duterte also rejected the proposal to resume face-to-face school classes in low-risk areas in March, but is open to conduct pilot tests by August, his spokesman said.

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