Philippines Extends Ban on U.K. Flights, Mulls Tighter Curbs

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte extended the ban on U.K. flights by two weeks and said he’s open to reinstating tighter movement curbs if coronavirus infections spike.

Returning to some form of a lockdown “is a possibility if the severity in numbers will demand that we take corrective measures immediately,” the president said at a Saturday meeting of the task force handling the pandemic. The Philippines has Southeast Asia’s second-worst Covid-19 outbreak, with more than 469,000 cases as of Dec. 26.

The suspension of flights from the U.K., which was due to end Dec. 31, will be extended for two weeks. Travelers who transit through Britain and other areas where the more infectious coronavirus strain has been found will face 14 days in quarantine when they arrive in the Philippines, according to the transcript of the meeting.

The new strain has so far not been detected in the Philippines, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said at the briefing.

Duterte on Saturday also scrapped his order to resume in-person classes at schools next month and ordered tighter security at the southernmost borders after the new variant was reported in Sabah, Malaysia. The Philippines implemented one of the world’s longest lockdowns from mid-March and has gradually loosened curbs in the past six months as the economy plunged into a recession. Most of the country, including the capital region, is currently under restrictions that enable most businesses to operate.

Military Deal

The Philippine leader called on the U.S. to provide his country with at least 20 million vaccines immediately, saying he will terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement with Washington if they fail to deliver the medicines. “No vaccine, no stay here,” Duterte said of the military deal the U.S. has sought to extend.

Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE have applied for emergency-use authorization in the Philippines for their jointly developed Covid-19 vaccine, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said, citing the country’s Food and Drug Administration.

Southeast Asia Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker: Who Will Get What, When

Duterte said he wants to provide free vaccines to all Filipinos. The government is expecting the first shipment of about 30 million doses by May 2021.

The Philippines expects to sign a deal for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by January and is also working on a pact with Moderna Inc. for an initial 20 million doses, said Carlito Galvez, the official that Duterte assigned to oversee the inoculation campaign. The nation is aiming to secure at least 80 million vaccines from pharmaceuticals including AstraZeneca Plc., Novavax Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, Galvez said.

The government is asking Russia’s Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, which is offering another 25 million doses, to submit the results of its third clinical trial, Galvez said. Discussions with Sinovac Biotech Ltd. are ongoing, he said.

Duterte said many people have been inoculated with the vaccine from Sinopharm Group Co. including those from the Philippine military.

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