The Philippines' capital region will exit wide-scale coronavirus restrictions from Thursday, as the government launches a pilot test of localised lockdowns, amid efforts to balance reopening the economy and containing the spread of the coronavirus.
The localised lockdown would be accompanied by five alert levels designating the range of businesses allowed to operate, including activities targeted at fully vaccinated individuals, officials said.
If successful, the same formula could be applied across the Philippines, which is battling one of Asia's worst coronavirus outbreaks.
The shift in the government's COVID-19 strategy could soon pave the way for limited face-to-face school classes and the reopening of indoor entertainment facilities in areas with low virus transmission and adequate hospital capacity.
From Thursday, the alert level would be changed in Metro Manila, allowing outdoor dining at 30% capacity, and indoor dining for small groups of fully immunised people, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergerie told a briefing.
Religious gatherings and personal care services will be allowed at 30% of building capacity.
The capital region, an urban sprawl of 16 cities that is home to 13 million people, is the country's coronavirus epicentre, accounting for a third of cases and one in every four deaths. Three-fifths of the area's population have already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, government data showed.
The shift followed calls by some health professionals for tighter curbs to give stretched hospitals a breathing space.
"Up to now, cases are still increasing. It's just like the Olympics, we are waiting for when we will hit a new record high," Geneve Rivera-Reyes, a public physician, told Reuters.
Metro Manila's overall infections in the past 30 days alone accounted for more than a fifth of the country's total of 2.2 million cases, while overall deaths have reached 35,145.