Philippines eases COVID-19 curbs in Manila amid decrease in cases

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The Philippines on Friday lifted restrictions on national obsessions like karaoke and basketball in the capital Manila and reopened universities in the megacity of 13 million people as virus cases eased there.

All restrictions on the movement of young people aged below 18 years were lifted in the capital, officials announced, and primary schools could reopen soon, pending the approval of President Rodrigo Duterte.

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“This is good news and one that has been highly anticipated,” Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque told a news conference.

Curfews as well as curbs on indoor recreation and contact sports are components of severe lockdowns aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 which has infected about 2.8 million people and killed 44,000 across the Southeast Asian nation.

Officials cited rising vaccination coverage for a slowdown in the spread of the virus, which had strained health services between April and October with the onslaught of the highly contagious delta variant.

Cases have fallen from a high of 2,000 average daily cases in Manila last month “to an average of just 493 cases per day,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told the news conference.

The new guidelines are in place until November 21, but officials said they could be extended if the number of new cases and hospital admission rates continue to fall.

Minors had only been allowed outside their homes starting this month, but only to “obtain essential goods and services.”

Contact sports like basketball, the national sport, karaoke bars, and amusement park operations were allowed for the first time since the Philippines began imposing lockdowns early last year.

Roque said metropolitan Manila universities would reopen at 50 percent capacity, while “face-to-face” instruction in grade schools could resume for the first time since March 2020 if Duterte gave his approval.

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