Philippine cases hit 500K amid vaccine struggles

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) — Coronavirus infections in the Philippines surged past 500,000 in a new bleak milestone with the government facing criticism for failing to immediately launch a vaccination programme amid a global scramble for COVID-19 vaccines.

The Department of Health reported 1,895 new infections on Sunday, bringing confirmed coronavirus cases in the country to 500,577, the second highest in Southeast Asia.

There have been at least 9,895 deaths. The Philippines has been negotiating with seven Western and Chinese companies to secure 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine but the effort has been fraught with uncertainties and confusion. About 50,000 doses from China-based Sinovac Biotech Ltd may arrive later next month followed by much larger shipments, according to the government, but concerns have been raised over its efficacy.

President Rodrigo Duterte said securing the vaccines has been difficult because wealthy nations secured massive doses for their citizens first.

Duterte’s elite guards acknowledged they have been inoculated with a still-unauthorised COVID-19 vaccine partly to ensure that they would not infect the 75-year-old president. Duterte’s spokesman and other officials have denied the president himself was vaccinated.

A flurry of criticism followed the illegal vaccinations, but few details have been released, including which vaccine was used and how the guards obtained it. Some senators moved to investigate, but Duterte ordered his guards not to appear before the Senate.

Foreign passengers wearing protective suits walk for their flight to China at Manila’s International Airport, Philippines. PHOTO: AP