Duterte sees Philippines back to 'normal' by 2023

President Rodrigo Duterte said he sees the Philippines going back to normal by 2023, after the country on Sunday, February 28, received its first batch of coronavirus vaccines from China.

"In about maybe early 2023, not 2022, ito ngayon hanggang katapusan ng buwan, paspasan tayo (we'll expedite starting now until the end of the month)," Duterte said in a press conference on Sunday, when asked when he expects the country to go back to normal after the first vaccines arrived.

"Early first or second quarter of 2023 baka, sa tulong ng Diyos (maybe, with God's help," Duterte added.

March 15 will mark one year since the country was first placed under lockdown following the increased number of coronavirus cases.

Since then, the Philippines has been tagged for being one of the worst hit countries with its sluggish response to the pandemic.

The arrival of 600,000 doses of Sinovac's CoronaVac – the first batch of coronavirus vaccine and a donation from the Chinese government – on Sunday marked a huge development, being one of the last countries that has not rolled out a vaccination program.

At least 525,600 doses of vaccines developed by British drugmaker AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford is expected to arrive in a week, after it was postponed from March 1.

Lifting restrictions

In Sunday's press conference, Duterte also said he is now considering easing quarantine restrictions in the Philippines if more COVID-19 vaccine arrives in the coming months.

This includes placing Metro Manila and the rest of the country under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), the lightest quarantine classification.

"We will have a million this month. Magkaroon lang tayo ng 2 million, bibitawan ko na (if we have 2 million, I will allow it)," he said.

The President mentioned different figures – from 2 million, to 20 to 30 million vaccines.

"Kung makita ko na marami na vaccine, open ko na lahat, tanggalin ko na iyan (If I see there are a lot of vaccine, I will open it, I will remove it all)," Duterte added.

He previously thumbed down the relaxation of quarantine restrictions down to MGCQ since he "gives higher premium to public health and safety," according to Malacañang.

This move went against the proposal of economic managers and other officials who saw the MGCQ as a way to revive the country's economy upended by the strict lockdown.

On Sunday, however, Duterte lamented that not opening the economy may lead to more problems for many Filipinos.

"Talagang hirap tayo (we really have it hard), people have to eat, people have to work, people have to pay for their upkeep," he said. "The only way to do it is to open the economy and for businesses to regrow."

The Philippines now has 576,352 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 2,113 new cases as of Sunday, February 28. This is the 4th consecutive day that over 2,000 new cases were reported. – Rappler.com