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MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Coronavirus infections in the Philippines surpassed 500,000, a grim milestone reached as criticism of the government for not immediately launching a vaccination program amid a global scramble for COVID vaccines. 19.
The Health Department reported 1,895 new cases on Sunday, bringing the country’s confirmed total to 500,577, the second highest in Southeast Asia. At least 9,895 people have died.
The Philippines is negotiating with seven Chinese and Western companies to secure 148 million doses of vaccine, but the efforts have been marked by uncertainty and confusion. Some 50,000 doses could arrive from Chinese firm Sinovac Biotech Ltd. next month, followed by much larger shipments, according to the government. However, there are concerns surrounding the effectiveness of the drug.
The president, Rodrigo Duterte, has said that obtaining vaccines is difficult because rich countries have previously secured large amounts of doses for their populations.
The elite guards protecting Duterte have admitted that they were vaccinated with an as-yet unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine to ensure they don’t infect the 75-year-old president. Duterte’s spokesman and other officials have denied that the president himself had been vaccinated.
Illegal vaccinations have sparked a stir of criticism, although few details are known, such as what type of vaccine was used and how the guards obtained it. Some senators started a commission of inquiry, but Duterte ordered the guards not to appear before the Senate.
In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed to control the pandemic and celebrate the postponed Olympics this summer with extensive protection against the coronavirus.
In a speech to kick off the parliamentary course, Suga said his government will review the laws to make sure it has measures against the virus that can be applied with sanctions and compensation.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Japan was able to contain the contagions with non-binding requests to people to stay at home, and to businesses to close or operate with social distancing. But in recent weeks there have been several spikes in daily cases, attributed in part to a more relaxed attitude in measures against the virus, and fear is growing that more contagious variants will spread while people wait to be vaccinated, with the Games closer and closer.
Suga said his government hopes to start vaccinations from the end of February. Japan has confirmed more than 330,000 infections and 4,500 deaths from COVID-19, figures that have been growing in recent months, although they remain well below many other countries of its size.
For its part, a Chinese province that is experiencing a rebound in coronavirus cases reinstated tough restrictions on weddings, funerals and other family gatherings, threatening offenders with criminal charges. The notice from the Hebei high court did not include specific details, although it noted that all social gatherings were regulated to prevent further spread of the virus.
Hebei has suffered one of the most serious outbreaks in recent months, amid preparations to prevent a further spread of the virus during the Lunar New Year holiday. The authorities have asked citizens not to travel, advance the closure of schools by a week and carried out massive diagnostic tests.
Hebei reported another 54 cases in the previous 24 hours, the National Health Commission said Monday, while the northern province of Jilin reported 30 cases and Heilongjiang, further north, reported seven.
Beijing registered two new cases, and most buildings and residential complexes already required a negative test for the virus to enter.
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