Philippine economy may recover earlier than 2023, says Trade chief

THE PHILIPPINE ECONOMY may return to its pre-pandemic level earlier than 2023, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said, as the Philippines began its coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination program on Monday.

As the first batch of vaccines donated by China arrived on Sunday, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said the Philippines would likely go back to “normal” in early 2023.

Mr. Lopez in a mobile message to reporters said it is possible for the economy to recover before then.

“(We) will do our best, through other economic reforms and programs,” he said.

Economic managers project 6.5% to 7.5% gross domestic product (GDP) growth this year, and 8% to 10% in 2022.

The country’s GDP contracted by a record 9.5% in 2020, as the strict lockdown implemented to curb the spread of the COVID-19 came at a “huge cost” to the economy. In 2019, GDP grew by 5.9%, which was the slowest in eight years.

At the Laging Handa briefing on Monday, Mr. Lopez said the President’s 2023 projection likely referred to the absence of restrictions seen before the pandemic.

“As we are learning how to deal with the virus, may nakita naman tayong sector na nabubuksan… na kahit na may quarantine pa o may restriction pa ay unti-unting lumuluwag (we are seeing sectors that are reopening… even with the quarantine or restrictions, we are slowly opening).”

Mr. Duterte had said that he may consider placing Metro Manila under the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), the least strict form of lockdown, if the country is able to accumulate more doses of the vaccines, a move he had earlier deferred while vaccines were unavailable. 

“We are still looking for ways kung paano maluwagan ito (how to loosen these) without really shifting to MGCQ,” Mr. Lopez said.

Economic managers and business groups had sought the further easing of lockdown restrictions to fast-track the country’s economic recovery.

In DTI Memorandum Circular 21-08 published on Monday, social events at Tourism-accredited venues can run with a capacity of 30% in general community quarantine (GCQ) areas and 50% in MGCQ areas.

Libraries, museums, cultural centers, meetings, conventions, tourist attractions, and arcades can run up to 50% in GCQ and 75% in MGCQ. Traditional (or non-drive in) cinemas can operate up to 25% in GCQ and 50% in MGCQ.

However, the number of COVID-19 infections continues to rise. On Monday, the Health department reported 2,037 new cases, bringing the total to 578,381. — Jenina P. Ibañez with report from Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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