Dominguez sees Metro Manila shift to MGCQ in April as boost to economic recovery
MANILA, Philippines—With the start of mass vaccination, Metro Manila may shift to the least stringent form of COVID-19 quarantine by April to help the economy recover more quickly from pandemic-induced recession, President Rodrigo Duterte’s chief economic manager said on Monday (March 1).
Asked if a shift to modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) would be possible in April, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said: “I believe so.”
Duterte’s economic team wanted to further ease quarantine restrictions to revive up to 95 percent of the economy under a nationwide MGCQ. On Sunday, the President said he was considering placing Metro Manila—the country’s economic and financial hub—under more relaxed quarantine measures.
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), which he heads, “will regularly review the health, economic, and vaccine data to make our next recommendation to the President.”
It was Chua who, two weeks ago, urged Duterte to impose nationwide MGCQ starting this month, but the President rejected it last week because vaccination has not started.
Dominguez said the national government and local government units (LGUs) were “working together with the private sector to assure that all adults are inoculated as soon as possible.”
But since he’s 75 years old, Dominguez cannot be injected with CoronaVac, the vaccine made by Chinese pharmaceutical Sinovac and which arrived in the country as a donation by China last Sunday (Feb. 28).
The finance chief, who’s in charge of funding the national vaccination program, last week said workers on the frontlines would be priority in the mass vaccination program because “a strong private sector is key to our recovery strategy.”
Before the pandemic, at least 3/4 of the Philippine economy was kept vibrant by household and private sector consumption but the longest and most stringent COVID-19 lockdown in the region drove the country into recession in 2020, leaving millions of people jobless and thousands of businesses shuttered.
The 9.5-percent contraction in gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 was the worst post-war outturn.
As Chua had lamented a “slow” start in further easing restrictions, GDP growth may remain negative in the first quarter of 2021 even as the government targeted full-year economic expansion of 6.5 to 7.5 percent this year.
The conservative growth target for 2021 had taken into consideration a prolonged COVID-19 quarantine during the first few months of the year while vaccine purchases and deliveries trickled.
But some green shoots of economic recovery were already evident—London-based global information provider IHS Markit Ltd. on Monday (March 1) reported that the Philippines’ purchasing managers’ index (PMI) remained at an over two-year high of 52.5 in February, similar to January’s.
A PMI above the neutral 50-mark meant a year-on-year increase in domestic manufacturing activities.
“Latest PMI data shows further progress across the Filipino manufacturing sector, with another solid overall expansion recorded during February,” said Shreeya Patel, IHS Markit economist, in a report.
“Output and new order growth persisted, while an acceleration in pre-production inventories suggests a commitment towards greater production in the months ahead,” Patel said.
“In addition, the rate of job shedding eased to the softest in 12 months,” the report added.
Patel, however, said the lingering pandemic “continues to pose a large threat with material shortages and transportation delays” leading to higher production costs which are passed on the consumers through more expensive products.
“Exports were also hard-hit with overseas demand heavily subdued during February,” Patel added.
“For now, controlling the COVID-19 pandemic remains at the heart of the Philippines’ agenda, and while vaccines have been secured, delivery delays have severely hindered efforts to vaccinate the nation,” according to Patel.
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