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Key economic sectors inch towards full reopening

Mall operators are now seeing improved foot traffic ahead of the holiday season. — Photo by Michael Varcas, The Philippine Star

The operations of key economic sectors like retail and fast food are starting to inch towards pre-pandemic levels as mobility restrictions are relaxed, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said.

“In the past few weeks, we have surveyed some of the key sectors of our economy, and they are seeing significant progress and are beginning to recover towards their pre-pandemic level,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said at the Philippine Economic Briefing for Foreign Chambers of Commerce on Friday.

Mr. Chua said capacity of fast-food chains are now at 78% of pre-pandemic levels, improving from 69% in October and 25% seen in September 2020.

Shopping malls are at currently at 63% capacity, with weekend crowds reaching 81% and weekday footfall at 50%. To compare, malls were at 24% of pre-pandemic levels in September 2020 and 35% in October 2021. Minors are now allowed to enter malls.
Metro Manila is currently under a more relaxed Alert Level 2, with businesses allowed operate at higher capacity. Economic managers expect the Alert Level to be further lowered to 1 by January as COVID-19 cases drop and the vaccination rate improves.

After travel restrictions to curb the spread of the COVID-19 stopped most air travel, flights were at 5% capacity by September 2020. By the same month this year, the figure increased to 16% before rising to 40% by Nov. 2021.

“This is in line with the relaxation of the quarantines to level 2 in many parts of the country,” Mr. Chua said.

“With further easing of the restrictions and opening of the economy, we are likely to recover to our pre-pandemic nominal GDP (gross domestic product) level by early 2022.”

He said that economic trends show that the country will likely reach or exceed the reduced 4-5% government GDP growth target. The 2022 growth target is 7-9%.

Three factors that could support economic growth would be the move to alert level 1 by January, the speeding up of the vaccination program, and maximizing the use of the 2021 and 2022 national budgets, Mr. Chua added.

Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said at the same event that he expects the economy to improve in the fourth quarter.

“We will continue easing restrictions as our infection rates continue their steep decline and we are able to vaccinate more people,” he said.

He asked foreign investors to be participate in the government’s economic initiatives, which includes sustainable financing and infrastructure modernization.

“We are urging our entrepreneurs and investors to promote a sustainable business model by shifting to the circular economy and using more renewables,” he said.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin E. Diokno said that when the full recovery of the economy is underway, the central bank will set a planned exit strategy.

The strategy will “safeguard the sustainability of the economic recovery while guarding against any emerging threats to the BSP’s price and financial stability objectives,” he said.

“As BSP keeps policy rates low and maintains accommodative policy stance, it has been observed that banks pass on lower and declining interest rates to their clients.” — Jenina P. Ibanez

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