A tricycle taxi driver wearing a face mask to protect himself against the Covid-19 waits for customers on a street in Manila on September 7, 2021, a day before the authorities lifted a stay-at-home order. Photo: AFP / Ted Aljibe

The Philippines will allow cinemas and gyms to reopen in the capital Manila, an official said Thursday, after a sharp fall in the daily number of coronavirus infections and increased vaccinations.

Restrictions have been eased in recent weeks as the government shifts its focus to getting people back to work and easing the economic misery caused by hard lockdowns. 

“We must pay attention to job creation at this time,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a news conference.

Cinemas and gyms, which have been closed for most of the pandemic, will be allowed to resume limited operations on Saturday for fully vaccinated people.

Maximum allowed capacities for restaurants, churches and beauty salons were raised to 30% as the metropolis was lowered to the third-highest alert level. 

Nearly 80% of the adult population in the capital has been fully vaccinated, compared with just over 30% for the entire country, according to official data.

Nationwide virus cases hit a record high of 26,303 on September 11, fuelled by the hyper-contagious Delta variant, but for the past four days have fallen below 9,000.

Hospital bed occupancy rates in Covid-19 wards and intensive care units have dropped to below 60%, data showed.

But the World Health Organization’s representative in the Philippines called for “very clear” messaging about restrictions to avoid “putting people’s lives at risk.”

“It’s not about relaxing or reducing the restrictions – it’s about calibrating,” Rabindra Abeyasinghe, the WHO’s official in the country, told the same news conference.

Social distancing and mask-wearing, even among fully vaccinated people, were “critically important to maintain the gains and further strengthen the transmission reduction.”

Lockdowns and other measures have shattered the Philippine economy and thrown millions out of work. 

The government’s top economic manager warned last month the next two generations of Filipinos would be paying for the cost of Covid-19.