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Philippine COVID-19 cases break 500,000; deaths nearing 10,000

CORONAVIRUS infections in the Philippines breached the 500,000 mark on Sunday, with deaths nearing 10,000, according to data from the Department of Health (DoH).

Health authorities reported 1,895 more coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, bringing the total to 500,577. The death toll rose to 9,895 as 11 more patients died, while recoveries increased by 5,868 to 465,991, it said in a bulletin.

There were 24,691 active cases, 84.6% of which were mild, 6.6% did not show symptoms, 5.3% were critical, 3% were severe and 0.47% were moderate.

Davao City reported the highest number of cases at 107, followed by Quezon City at 106, Isabela at 65, Pampanga at 63 and Bulacan at 62.

The Health department said nine duplicates had been removed from the tally, while five recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Five laboratories failed to submit their data on Jan. 16.

About 6.8 million Filipinos have been tested as of Jan. 15, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened about 95 million and killed about two million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 67.8 million people have recovered, it said. Also on Sunday, opposition Senator Franklin M. Drilon accused the government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte of concealing information about its coronavirus vaccination program, saying the Senate should hold more hearings on the matter.

“We will not get the whole picture of what lies ahead when important information is concealed from us and the public,” he said in a statement.

He added that the Executive branch had failed to sufficiently answer questions on vaccine pricing, their sources, delivery schedules and logistics. “We did not get any definite answers to these serious questions. I believe another round of hearing is in order.”

Mr. Drilon said he agreed with Senator Panfilo M. Lacson’s call for more hearings.

“These too many unanswered questions raise grave concerns, for the survival of the country largely depends on our ability to implement a successful vaccination program against COVID-19,” he added.

Vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. on Friday said the selection, procurement and administration of vaccines would adhere to government protocols to ensure transparency and accountability.

The Senate committee of the whole held two hearings attended by officials of the DoH and national task force against the coronavirus last week.

A Pulse Asia poll in November found that nearly 50% of Filipinos did not want to get vaccinated.

“The lack of access to information fuels doubts and confusion among the public,” Mr. Drilon said.

Senator Francis N. Pangilinan warned against using vaccines with a low efficacy, after the Chinese government pledged to donate 500,000 doses of its vaccines to the Philippines.

“While we appreciate the gesture, the donation should not pressure the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Technology Assessment Council to approve its use,” he said in a statement.

“Science, data and the results of clinical trials should be the basis and not political goodwill,” he added.

The government on Friday expanded its travel ban to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Hungary amid the spread of a more contagious coronavirus strain first detected in the United Kingdom (UK).

Presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque said the travel ban would start on Jan. 17 until Jan. 31. The travel ban on foreign passengers from 33 other countries had been extended until the end of the month.

These countries are the United Kingdom, United States, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea, South Africa, Canada, Spain, Austria, Portugal, India, Finland, Norway, Jordan, Brazil, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, China, Pakistan, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Oman, Australia, Israel, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy and Lebanon.

Health authorities on Wednesday said a Filipino who arrived from the UAE had tested positive for the UK coronavirus strain..

President Rodrigo R. Duterte last week said mayors and governors would be free to choose which vaccines to use for their people.

Mr. Duterte had long shown a preference for the vaccines developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and Russia’s Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Mr. Duterte defended the government’s decision to acquire the vaccine developed by Sinovac despite the uncertainty over its efficacy. Sinovac’s CoronaVac had been found to be 50.4% effective in Brazilian clinical trials, BBC News reported, citing the latest results released by researchers.

The President, known for his strong ties with the Chinese government, said the Sinovac vaccine is as good as the ones developed by European and American drug makers.

The FDA last week approved the emergency use of Pfizer, Inc. and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, the first in the country.

The benefits of the vaccine, which has a 95% efficacy and requires -80 to -60 degree Celsius storage before dilution, outweighs potential risks, it said.

Vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. earlier said the government might use the Pfizer vaccine in the early rollout under the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility of the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 40 million doses will come from the COVAX facility for 20 million to 30 million people, he said last week.

COVAX, co-led by GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organization, aims to ensure the availability of COVID-19 vaccines to all countries.

China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. also submitted its application for emergency use on Wednesday.

Mr. Domingo said the vaccine, which China had authorized for emergency use, was still being assessed given incomplete clinical trial data.

UK-based drug maker AstraZeneca Plc and Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology have also applied for emergency use. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Charmaine A. Tadalan

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