June 16, 2020 / 12:35 PM / 22 days ago

As economy slumps, Philippines lets eateries reopen to recoup job losses

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines is getting back to business after one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns spanning nearly three months, allowing restaurants to reopen this week for dine-in customers in an effort to keep people in work.

Diners wait for their orders at a food court where only one customer per table is allowed, as the Philippine government allows dining-in following months of restrictions due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila, Philippines, June 16, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

Eateries in the capital Manila that can meet government safety protocols were allowed to reopen from Monday at 30% of their seating capacity, with strict hygiene and social distancing measures a must.

That won’t be a problem for Lalaine Baja, even though her streetside Manila restaurant that serves Filipino favourites had only a trickle of diners on Tuesday.

“We are thankful when even one or two customers eat at our restaurant,” she said. “Since customers now have the option to dine in, our sales have been gradually picking up.”

The Philippines has so far reported 26,781 infections and 1,103 fatalities due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. That’s the third-highest death toll in East Asia after China and Indonesia.

Metro Manila has been under lockdown since March 16, but restrictions have been loosened since June 1 after some grim forecasts for a normally resilient economy and record April unemployment of 17.7%.

Televised video footage showed happy staff at restaurants cleaning tables and cutlery, with some wearing masks and face shields and others in full-length protective suits and latex gloves.

Customers will be required to sit diagonally, or with a transparent plastic panel between them.

President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday some restrictions would remain in place in Manila for a further two weeks because the threat of contagion remained. These include bans on gatherings and sports, partial curbs on public transportation, and stay-at-home orders for the elderly.

His trade minister, Ramon Lopez, said the only way to get the economy going without risking further outbreaks of the virus would be through modified restaurants and the restricted reopening of barber shops, salons and malls.

“It is to our interest in government to really find that healthy balance in bringing back jobs while ensuring health protocols are followed,” he said.

Reporting by Adrian Portugal; Writing by Martin ; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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