Cautious optimism as Philippines, Malaysia ease some coronavirus curbs

A diner shows her digital vaccination certificate at a restaurant, amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Aug 20, 2021.
PHOTO: REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

MANILA, Aug 20 - After 17 months of on-off lockdown measures in and around the Philippine capital Manila, its weary residents are hoping the latest easing of restrictions can breathe some life into an economy weighed down by the Covid-19 crisis.

The Philippines, which has one of Asia's worst and longest-running coronavirus epidemics, announced a loosening of measures late on Thursday to try spur activity in an economy that contracted a record 9.5per cent last year.

"We had less passengers, we were only allowed 50per cent capacity, we had a really hard time in our trips since what we earned was just enough for our everyday meals," said Reynaldo Escanilla, who drives a jeepney passenger truck.

After the Chinese city Wuhan, where Covid-19 was first detected, the Philippines was one of the first places in the world to go into lockdown last year.

Manila Barber Joel Carino is eager to get back to normal life.

"Ever since the start of lockdown we felt hunger. I'm not in favour of it since a lot of Filipinos are struggling. There are no jobs given most establishments are closed," he said.

But with a long way to go with vaccinations and record highs for daily infections, active case numbers and the positivity rate, the virus problems are far from over in the Philippines, hurting its poorest the most. 

"A lot are feeling the weight especially in businesses similar to ours. We have no sales, there are no people," said restaurant manager Ely Cundangan.

"There are some who buy but very few. How are we supposed to live?"

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Malaysia too reported a record number of Covid-19 cases on Friday (Aug 20), a day after announcing some businesses would resume, with more activities allowed for fully vaccinated people, including dining at restaurants.

"My first instinct was I'm ecstatic, I'm like, 'yes, we can finally go on,'" said Rick Joore, a Kuala Lumpur restaurant owner.

"What if it's going to be in two weeks, that we have to close down again?" he said. "But then we had a wonderful two weeks, and we did what we could."

But Chen Ren Yi feels its too soon to open his burger restaurant and prepare staff for strict protocols.

"We feel that it is a little bit too rushed, a little bit too early after the vaccination rate has not really reached where we feel is comfortable yet."