The Philippines is on the brink of recession, but fully reopening its economy while thousands of new coronavirus cases are still being recorded daily puts the country at risk of “pandemonium,” President Rodrigo Duterte said.
In pre-recorded remarks aired on Wednesday morning, Duterte said he was opting for a partial reopening of the economy to save livelihoods and secure jobs—and to avoid repeating the mistakes of leaders like the U.S.'s Donald Trump and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, both populist firebrands with whom he is frequently mentioned in the same breath.
“In America and Brazil, the presidents are brave. Bolsonaro has money; he’s kind of like Trump," he said, citing the leaders' "devil may care attitude."
"We are poor. We cannot afford total pandemonium.”
He added: “If we follow the examples of other countries by opening our entire economy and thousands upon thousands of new cases happen—then we are in deep shit.”
Duterte went on to voice concerns about emulating the “bold actions” of countries like the U.S., Brazil, and others.
“First and foremost, we don’t have enough money to address the pandemic. We have to be very circumspect in the reopening of our economy,” Duterte said. “Now what really happened in these countries was that although they opened their economy for money to come into the government coffers, there was a spike [in cases]. They faced problems with relapses.”
The U.S. currently has the world’s highest number of infections and deaths, with more than 3 million and 132,000, respectively. Nonetheless, Trump has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the coronavirus and urged states to reopen.
Brazil, meanwhile, in a commanding second place in both infections and deaths, has opposed lockdowns, with President Bolsonaro saying they would hurt the economy. Even Bolsonaro himself has tested positive for COVID-19, which he dismissed as “a little flu.”
The Philippines, for its part, has been battered by a tough three-month pandemic-related lockdown, but new coronavirus cases continue to soar. So far the country has logged more than 50,000 confirmed cases, with more than 1,300 deaths.
Still, the economic stakes are high for the Philippines. In its June Global Economic Prospects report, the World Bank revised its GDP forecast for the country down by as much as 8 percent, predicting that the economy is actually likely to contract in 2020. The bank said the contraction would also likely result in an increase in poverty.
But Khoon Goh, Asia research head at the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), said Duterte’s decision was a “reasonable way forward.”
“Maintaining stringent lockdowns does huge economic damage to a country. It is particularly harsh on lower income households and those not in the formal sector of the economy,” Goh told VICE News in an email.
“A gradual reopening will allow economic activity to restart while hopefully preventing a worsening outbreak. It is a very difficult decision and there will be potential negative outcomes either way so it is difficult to assess which has the least cost. As we have seen in the US, re-opening too quickly will result in a spike of infections.”