Duterte wants to reopen economy in a few weeks, but says he’s in a ‘quandary’

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 11) — President Rodrigo Duterte has revealed his plans to further open the economy within weeks, but stressed that more people have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 first.

“I have to reopen the economy. I’ve given a timetable of just weeks,” Duterte said at the inauguration of Dumaguete City’s Port Operations Building on Thursday.

“We cannot forever be in the strict protocols… People are hungry. People have to work to eat, to survive,” he added.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, four million Filipinos or 8.7% of the workforce were unemployed in January despite efforts to gradually resume the operations of more sectors and businesses. The economy has been in recession since last year following months of strict community quarantine.

The President, however, acknowledged that the government has “yet to fully implement” the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program. The country has so far received 1.125 million doses of the vaccines developed by Chinese firm Sinovac and United Kingdom-based AstraZeneca, which are donations from China and the global COVAX facility, respectively.

READ: Duque: 76% of available vaccines deployed, but vaccination journey still long

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said a total of 114,615 individuals have been vaccinated so far as the country targets to immunize 1.7 million health care workers first before the rest of the priority sectors.

Kung makita ko na mag-abot na ng milyon ang mga vaccinated, then probably, especially around the towns and big cities, okay na. But hanggang ngayon, I am as I said in a quandary on what to do,” Duterte said.

[Translation: If I see that the number of vaccinated reaches a million, especially around the towns and big cities, that’s okay for me. But as of now as I said I’m still in a quandary on what to do.]

Earlier, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the President wants some two million shots rolled out before placing the entire country to modified general community quarantine or the lowest restriction level.

Metro Manila and nine other areas remain under the stricter general community quarantine this March, but unified curfew hours and border control measures may be implemented in the capital region due to the surge in COVID-19 infections.

Starting February 25, the country has been seeing around 2,000 to more than 3,000 infections daily, majority of which were being recorded in Metro Manila. If the trend continues, the country could record as many as 6,000 COVID-19 cases daily nationwide by the end of March, with Metro Manila contributing to up to 3,000 of these infections, according to the latest OCTA projections.

The independent research group is calling for stricter mobility restrictions, saying compliance with minimum public health standards alone is no longer enough at this point due to the dramatic surge in infections.