Coronavirus News Asia

Stage set for viral second wave in Philippines

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MANILA – A looming economic collapse has forced the Philippines to ease the world’s longest Covid-19 lockdown, a two-month-old quarantine that has squeezed the life out of businesses and non-essential industries, and raised the specter of social instability.

The recent reopening of shopping malls and other major public spaces unleashed a flood of people and traffic across densely populated Metro-Manila, raising fears that a lack of social distancing and mask-wearing could result in a “second wave” of infections.

With large clusters of infections and a backlog in mass testing, the country’s largest cities including Metro-Manila are still seen as Covid-19 hotspots. The Philippines recorded 12,942 cases and 837 deaths as of May 20, according to a Johns Hopkins University global statistical tracker of the pandemic.  

Secretary Carlito Galvez, an ex-military chief who heads the government’s ongoing “enhanced community quarantine” in Manila, recently acknowledged that country “has to [strike a] balance between health and economy.”

President Rodrigo Duterte’s government no doubt also aims to head off social unrest before it comes to a head, as criticism rises on social media over authorities sometimes harsh enforcement of the lockdown, including the targeting of the leader’s critics.  

The risk of a backlash is rising as the lockdown crimps the economy, which is well on course to contract for the first time in over two decades.

A woman waiting for relief goods to be placed on chairs designated for households in a low income community in Metro-Manila. Photo: EPA via AFP Forum

Still, lawmakers and health officials have warned of severe punishments and the possibility of rolling back easing measures if the public resorts to risky behaviors, as were on full display in social media posts of crowded markets and malls in recent days.

Most provinces have recently relaxed their lockdowns, shifting from “Enhanced Community to Quarantine (ECG)” to “General Community Quarantine (GCQ)”, where basic social distancing and health guidelines are in place but most local businesses and institutions are allowed to re-open.

The major urban centers of Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and the five major provinces surrounding the national capital region, however, are still under strict lockdown due to persistently high clusters of coronavirus infections.

Under the modified GCQ lockdown, certain processing and manufacturing plants as well as shopping malls and real estate construction have been allowed to resume operations, albeit under strict restrictions and at half their normal staffing.

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