July 31, 2020 / 8:58 AM / 11 days ago

Philippines extends coronavirus curbs as infections hit record for second day

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines reported Southeast Asia’s biggest daily jump in new coronavirus cases for a second straight day on Friday, as its president extended restrictions in the capital to quell the spread, and promised normality would return in December.

FILE PHOTO: Shopping mall workers wearing masks for protection against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) wait for a shuttle outside a mall, in Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 24, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

President Rodrigo Duterte in a televised address also said the Philippines would be given priority in supplies should China make a breakthrough with a COVID-19 vaccine and the poorest Filipinos would be treated with it first.

The Philippines this month recorded the region’s largest daily rise in coronavirus deaths and on Friday its biggest daily jump in new cases for the second successive day, with 4,063 infections adding strain on inundated hospitals and frontline healthcare workers.

The capital region, provinces south of it and some central cities remain subject to curbs on internal travel, restrictions on the elderly and children and some business operations.

“My plea is to endure some more. Many have been infected,” Duterte said.

The lockdowns imposed in mid-March are among the world’s strictest and longest, and have taken a toll on the country’s normally fast-growing economy, with gross domestic product expected to shrink 2% to 3.4% this year, the first contraction in more than two decades.

The measures were eased on June 1 to restart commerce and stem the losses, but infections have since increased five-fold to 93,354, with deaths more than doubling to 2,023.

Duterte’s coronavirus task force said it would lock down areas where cases surged, while urging government and private hospitals to increase bed capacity.

Metropolitan Manila, an urban sprawl of 16 cities home to at least 13 million people, accounts for more than half of the COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Duterte also promised free vaccinations if available by later this year and said the poor would be prioritised, followed by the middle classes and security forces.

“I promise you, by December, by the grace of God, we will be back to normal,” Duterte said.

Pharmaceutical companies in countries including China, the United States and Britain are conducting late-stage trials on vaccines.

Duterte on Monday said he had made a plea to Chinese President Xi Jinping to make the Philippines among the first to receive vaccines.

The Philippines would buy 40 million doses worth $400 million for 20 million people, about a fifth of its 107 million population, said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez.

“Once the vaccine is available I am sure we can fully open,” Dominguez said.

Editing by Ed Davies and Martin Petty

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