Singapore gets Asia's first batch of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine

The first shipment of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine arrives in Singapore December 21, 2020. The Straits Times/Kua Chee Siong via REUTERS SINGAPORE OUT. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore received its first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, according to its flag carrier, ahead of a rollout in the city-state that health officials have said could be as soon as two-three weeks away.

Singapore Airlines, which carried the vaccines on board one of its freighters from Belgium, did not specify the size of the batch.

Singapore is the first Asian country to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech shots after it said last week that it had approved the companies' vaccine.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 68, has said he would be among the early recipients of the vaccine in the nation of 5.7 million people, which has one of the lowest coronavirus fatality rates globally.

"Delighted to see the first shipment of vaccines arrive in Singapore," Lee posted on Facebook on Monday, adding that the authorities will announce details of a rollout in due course.

He reiterated that the vaccination will be voluntary, and that he encouraged Singaporeans to take it.

The government plans to first administer the vaccine to healthcare workers and the elderly. Health ministry official Kenneth Mak had last week said the first jabs could be given "within the next two to three weeks" if safely delivered.

Singapore has kept new local infections to almost zero each day in recent months and will further ease restrictions next week.

It has signed advanced purchase agreements and made early down-payments on several vaccine candidates including those being developed by Moderna and Sinovac, setting aside more than S$1 billion ($746.16 million) for shots.

Most of the city-state's more than 58,000 coronavirus cases occurred in cramped migrant worker dormitories, but there are some concerns about asymptomatic carriers and undetected transmission taking place.

The government said on Saturday it was investigating whether 13 travellers who tested positive at a five-star hotel in November may have been infected there during their mandatory quarantine, rather than prior to their arrival in the country.

(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Martin Petty/Mark Heinrich)

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