Economic team tells IATF to reopen more industries as vaccine not expected until mid-2021

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Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 10) — President Rodrigo Duterte's economic managers want the COVID-19 task force to allow more businesses and public transport to reopen, with a long wait seen until an actual vaccine is made available.

"In the IATF, we are already endorsing further opening up of the economy so long as the minimum health standards are abided and also the public transport, to support people going to work," Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua told senators on Thursday.

"Our behavior and all the things we have learned for the last six months are going to help us adjust... The economy can gradually reopen," he added.

NEDA said about half of the country is under the most relaxed level of community quarantine, while the rest including Metro Manila remains under general community quarantine and select municipalities and cities are under lockdown as COVID-19 cases in the country continue to rise.

Under GCQ, around 75 percent of business establishments are allowed to reopen. However, schools, entertainment centers, and tourist spots remain closed.

From an expected contraction of 5.5 percent this year, the economic team sees a rebound by 2021 to a 6.5-7.5 percent growth –– a figure deemed too "rosy" by some lawmakers.

"The assumptions that we have put in the budget are the following: one, there will be no U-turn in the quarantine levels, it should be gradually improving. Second assumption is that the vaccine will be available by the middle or third quarter of 2021," Chua said when probed by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian.

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Duterte has been optimistic that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready by December, even telling agencies to set aside funds so that the country is ready to buy in bulk once doses are cleared for global use. Drug makers are still finishing clinical trials, including Russia which first claimed to have come up with a vaccine called Sputnik V.

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For now, Chua said Filipinos are forced to "live and dance" with the virus. He added that local infections, although rising, remain "manageable" as testing laboratories and health facilities are opened and upgraded.

Lockdowns from March to May pushed the Philippines into recession, with national output down by 9 percent from January to June. However, the NEDA chief said there's been "continuous improvement" so far.

More Filipinos are expected to find jobs in the coming months after getting displaced by the lockdowns. Chua added that easing restrictions on public transport will help reduce joblessness, as more people can physically report to their workplace.

Buses, jeepneys, trains, and other modes of transport have been ordered to load fewer passengers than usual to enforce social distancing and prevent infections.