Traffic jams are back in the Philippine capital as restrictions ease

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Traffic jams and outdoor crowds returned to the Philippine capital and 38 other cities and provinces on Tuesday after authorities cleared businesses and public transportation, including shopping malls, movie theaters and restaurants, to operate at full capacity as COVID-19 cases continued to decline with more vaccinations, officials said.

In a bid to further boost the pandemic-stricken economy, authorities placed Metro Manila and 38 other regions under the lowest rung of a five-stage pandemic alert system from Tuesday to March 15. and lifted most health restrictions, but still required residents 18 and older to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and wear face masks outdoors and in indoor establishments.

Social distancing is no longer required in Manila and other specified areas, restaurants can now remove plastic barriers on tables and public gatherings – such as birthdays, weddings, sporting events and family reunions – can resume fully. All government employees have been ordered to return to the office for work.

“Now everything is open,” Commerce Secretary Ramon Lopez said. “We are happy to see the traffic again, it means that there is really economic activity and that people are going out.”

The Philippines imposed one of the longest police-enforced lockdowns and quarantines two years ago when successive outbreaks of COVID-19 hit and triggered the worst economic downturn of 2020 and pushed unemployment and hunger to levels records.

Economic growth has since resumed and could return to pre-pandemic levels this year unless external turmoil such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine worsens, Lopez said.

Daily COVID-19 cases have fallen from over 37,000 at the last peak in January to less than 1,000. The 951 cases reported on Monday bring the total number of confirmed infections to over 3.6 million with 56,451 deaths. , the second highest total in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.

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