Manila, Aug 18 (efe-epa).- The Philippines’ president announced new measures on Monday night easing the lockdown, which was imposed in Manila and the surrounding provinces for the past 15 days due to a continued increase in COVID-19 cases.
Starting Wednesday until Aug. 31, Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal – which have a total of 27 million residents, a quarter of the country’s population – will be able to resume activity in almost all their industries.
Restaurants will be allowed to reopen at 30 percent capacity and public transport will begin operating, while religious gatherings will also be allowed at 30 percent capacity.
“The only salvation available to humankind at this time of life, if you are stricken with the virus, the answer is always vaccine,” Rodrigo Duterte said in a televised address on Monday night.
The Philippine leader has repeatedly said that the country will not be able to return to normal until a vaccine is available.
Duterte also thanked Russia and China, which he said have ensured that they will prioritize the Philippines in the supply of their patented vaccines after announcing last week that the Southeast Asian country will be one of the places where clinical trials of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine will be conducted and distributed free of charge.
“I would like to thank Russia, President Putin, and China, President Xi Jinping, for offering to provide us with the vaccine as soon as it is possible for distribution to the public,” Duterte said in his speech.
“I cannot overemphasize my debt of gratitude. But remember that this is not for free, for after all, they did not develop the vaccine without great expense, and also the human effort involved.”
The decision to ease the lockdown has sparked criticism from health experts and the scientific community as COVID-19 cases in the Philippines continue to rise with more than 3,800 new cases reported on Tuesday, 86 percent in and around the capital, to take the total infections in the country to 164,474, including 2,681 deaths.
Experts from the University of the Philippines have predicted that cases in the country will reach 230,000 by the end of the month if the lockdown is relaxed.
However, the government has insisted on the need to revive the economy to mitigate the serious crisis already being felt in the Philippines, which has imposed one of the longest and toughest lockdowns in the world.
The provinces of Nueva Ecija, Batangas and Quezon on the island of Luzon, as well as the cities of Cebu, Lapu Lapu, Mandaue, Talisay and Iloilo in the central region, are in the same quarantine phase as the capital, while the rest of the country is at a more advanced stage of de-escalation, the final one before the new normal. EFE-EPA