Philippines extends coronavirus restrictions, makes vaccine pledge

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday extended the restrictions on novel coronavirus in the capital city of Manila to mid-August, declaring that if the vaccine breakthrough was achieved, China would be given priority in the country.

FILE PHOTO: Passengers wearing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) face masks maintain social distance while traveling on a train in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 21, 2020. REUTERS / Eloisa Lopez

The Philippines saw the largest daily increase in coronavirus deaths in Southeast Asia and the highest increase in confirmed infections in one day this month, which overwhelmed healthcare and hospital workers in some cities.

The capital region, the provinces and cities to the south of it in the central Philippines have been subject to quarantine restrictions since June, which restrict the movement of older people and children, as well as the operation of companies from restaurants to gyms.

"My plea is to endure even more. Many have been infected, ”Duterte said in a television speech.

A coronavirus task force said it would block closures in areas with growing cases while calling on government and private hospitals to increase bed capacity for COVID-19 patients.

Duterte promised free vaccinations should they be available later this year, with priority given to the poor, then the middle class, the police and the military.

The Philippines would have priority from China in the distribution of vaccines, he said.

"I promise you that by December we will be back to normal by the grace of God," said Duterte.

Pharmaceutical companies in countries such as China, the United States and the United Kingdom conduct late-stage trials with vaccines.

Duterte said last week that he asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to make the Philippines the first to receive vaccines should one be developed.

The Philippines was planning to buy 40 million cans worth $ 400 million for 20 million people, about a fifth of its 107 million residents, said Treasury Secretary Carlos Dominguez.

"As soon as the vaccine is available, we can safely open it completely," said Dominguez.

The restrictions imposed in mid-March, which were among the strictest and longest in the world, paralyzed the Filipino economy, which was one of the fastest growing in Asia before the pandemic. Gross domestic product is expected to fall 2% to 3.4% this year, the first decline in more than two decades.

The Philippines has the second highest number of coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. The number of cases has almost quintupled to 89,374, and the number of deaths has more than doubled since the hard lock was eased to 1,983 in June.

Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Edited by Ed Davies

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