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Philippines' Duterte signs $3.4 billion pandemic stimulus package into law

FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attends a plenary session at a regional summit in Bangkok, Thailand November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law a 165.5 billion pesos ($3.4 billion) emergency relief measure on Friday to expand healthcare and help businesses after the coronavirus pandemic plunged the economy into recession.

Under the new law, the government could inject 40 billion pesos (644.55 million pounds) in additional capital into state-owned banks so they can lend more to small businesses.

The Philippines, which was among Asia’s fastest growing economies before the pandemic, is in recession for the first time in 29 years after a lengthy lockdown shuttered businesses and sapped domestic demand.

As the country grapples with the highest number of COVID-19 infections in Southeast Asia, the law also allots 25.5 billion pesos to hire nurses and doctors, purchase protective gear, and build medical facilities.

A standby fund of 10 billion pesos could fund the government’s purchase of COVID-19 vaccines. The Philippines is in talks with Russia, China, Australia and the United States for the potential supply of COVID-19 vaccines.

The stimulus package is “crucial in our efforts to gradually re-open the economy,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.

Partial restrictions remain in place in areas in and around the capital Manila, limiting the movement of people and capacity of businesses like restaurants and shopping malls. Schools remain shut and people are being urged to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Catherine Evans