Philippines says COVID-19 vaccination drive on track as cases surge

Manila: The Philippines is on track with its COVID-19 inoculation drive, the head of the government’s vaccine strategy said on Sunday, addressing criticisms the rollout has been slow as worries grow about a surge in new cases.

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The Department of Health reported 4,899 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, a day after recording the largest single-day increase in more than six months with 5,000 additional infections.

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The latest tally brought the country’s total confirmed cases to 621,498, among the highest in Asia, with the reported death toll increasing by 63 to 12,829.

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Carlito Galvez, who is in charge of the government’s vaccine procurement programme, said almost 90% of the more than 1 million doses that arrived so far had been deployed nationwide.

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“(The government) is on track in implementing its immunisation programme and optimistic that it would be able to achieve its target of inoculating about 70% of the country’s population within this year,” Galvez said in a statement.

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The country’s vaccination drive started on March 1 with 600,000 Sinovac shots donated by China. The Philippines also received an initial 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine through the COVAX facility.

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The total volume is just a small fraction of the 161 million doses the government plans to acquire to inoculate 50 million to 70 million Filipinos this year.

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With limited supply, only frontline medical staff and healthcare workers are being given shots at the moment.

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The rise in cases has prompted mayors in Metro Manila to reimpose localised lockdowns and nighttime curfews for two weeks beginning on Monday.

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In Quezon City, the capital region’s most populous city, additional restrictions will be enforced including a liquor ban and the closure of gyms, spas and internet cafes.

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