Manila region to test localised lockdowns starting Sept 16

MANILA: The Philippines' capital region will exit wide-scale coronavirus restrictions from tomorrow, as the government launches a pilot test of localised lockdowns, amid efforts to balance reopening the economy and containing the spread of the virus.

The localised lockdown would be accompanied by five alert levels designating the range of businesses allowed to operate, including activities targeted at fully vaccinated individuals, officials said.

If successful, the same formula could be applied across the Philippines, which is battling one of Asia's worst outbreaks.

Virus cases have surged to record levels - more than 140,000 cases in the past week - thanks to an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant.

More than 2.2 million people have been infected, and more than 35,000 have died since the start of the pandemic.

The shift in the government's Covid-19 strategy could pave the way for limited face-to-face school classes and the reopening of indoor entertainment facilities in areas with low virus transmission and adequate hospital capacity.

From tomorrow, the alert level will be changed in Metro Manila, allowing outdoor dining at 30 per cent capacity, and indoor dining for small groups of fully immunised people, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a briefing.

Religious gatherings and personal care services will be allowed at 30 per cent of building capacity.

The capital region, an urban sprawl of 16 cities that is home to 13 million people, is the country's coronavirus epicentre, accounting for a third of cases and one in every four deaths.

Three-fifths of the area's population have already been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, government data showed.

President Rodrigo Duterte said in a pre-recorded television address aired yesterday that vaccinations - now limited to priority sectors - could start for the general adult population next month "if there is a stable vaccine supply".

A succession of shutdowns since the start of the pandemic has sidelined more than two million workers in the food and leisure sectors in the capital alone, according to Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez. - REUTERS, AFP