Philippines: Covid-19 total goes past 500,000; govt to receive free vaccines from China

In this photo provided by the Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, right, chats with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a courtesy call at the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines on Saturday Jan. 16, 2021. Wang is in Manila as part of his Southeast Asian tour that included visits to Myanmar, Indonesia, Brunei to promote China's relations in the region. - AP

MANILA, Jan. 17 (Xinhua): The Department of Health (DOH) of the Philippines on Sunday reported 1,895 new confirmed coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, bringing the total number in the country to 500,577.

The death toll climbed to 9,895 after 11 more patients died from the viral disease, the DOH said. It added 5,868 more patients recovered, raising the total number of recoveries to 465,991.

The Philippines, which has about 110 million population, has tested over 6.84 million people since the disease emerged in January last year.

Beijing's top diplomat pledged on Saturday (Jan 16) to donate half a million coronavirus vaccine shots to the Philippines, Manila officials said -- despite growing resistance there to Chinese-made jabs over concerns about their efficacy.

President Rodrigo Duterte's administration is scrambling to lock in supplies of Covid-19 vaccines for the country's 110 million people, after being criticised for being too slow off the mark in the global race to procure the drugs.

Among other deals, the Philippines has already agreed to buy 25 million doses of Chinese company Sinovac's Coronavac, despite the jab not having been approved by regulators in China.

It is not clear which vaccine China will donate, and whether the donation is part of that earlier deal; the Chinese embassy in Manila did not respond to AFP's request for comment.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his counterpart of the intended donation when he was in Manila on Saturday, the Philippines foreign ministry said.

The news follows similar announcements from other countries in the region earlier this week - Cambodia said it would receive one million free doses from Beijing on Friday, after Myanmar was set to get 300,000.

Meanwhile, Carlito Galvez, the National Task Force against Covid-19 chief implementer, reassured Filipinos that the government will be cautious in the procurement of vaccines, vowing to administer only safe and efficacious vaccines.

Galvez gave the assurance after news reports that 23 elderly in Norway died within days after receiving their first dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration of the Philippines has approved the authorized emergency use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.

To ensure safety, Galvez said the government had formed an expert panel which will carefully examine the vaccines to be rolled out.

Galvez said the Philippines will stick to its original rollout plan to inoculate only those from 18-year-olds to 59-year-olds to avoid complications.

"We want to see the risk and benefit of the vaccines that we will administer," he added.

The Philippines has locked in 25 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from China's Sinovac, 30 million doses from the United States' Novavax, and 17 million doses from AstraZeneca.

Galvez said the delivery of these vaccines could start in February. "The government will strive to meet its target of 148 million doses of safe and effective vaccines this year at the earliest possible time," he added.

The Philippines is in talks with at least seven vaccine makers to procure 148 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines in 2021.

It aims to inoculate 50 million to 70 million people, or more than 60 percent of the total population this year, to achieve herd immunity.

Meanwhile, the DOH launched town hall meetings to generate support for the Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan and address the vaccine hesitancy. The DOH vowed to keep the people informed amid vaccine disinformation. - Xinhua
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