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Phl gets first dibs

MJ Blancaflor

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Malacañang on Thursday welcomed China’s declaration that it will prioritize Manila once it develops a vaccine for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as the government hopes to be one of the first countries to get their hands on an antitoxin.

Beijing gave its word after President Rodrigo Duterte told Filipinos in a recent address that he had “pleaded” with Chinese President Xi Jinping to let the Philippines be the first on the long queue for the vaccine against COVID-19.

“We are willing to give priority to the vaccine request made by China’s friendly neighbor, the Philippines,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a daily briefing on Tuesday.

Sought for comment, presidential spokesman Harry Roque thanked Beijing for “publicizing its position” on the matter.

“As a close friend of China, the Philippines will benefit from the vaccine they will develop. Thank you,” Roque said.

“This is the fruit of our independent foreign policy where we are friends to all and enemies to none,” he added.

The Palace official, however, implied that the Philippines is not closing its doors on other countries which might also develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Expect that our friendship with other countries such as America and Europe will prompt them to share their vaccine to us,” he said.

Two vaccine candidates developed by Chinese firms had previously entered Phase 3 trials or large-scale testing on humans — the last step before regulatory approval.

As early as May, President Duterte bet that a vaccine from China would be available by September, adding that the country is neither arrogant nor boastful.

“But they, you know, they work and I’m very sure that they will be the first one — one of the countries that would be able to come up with a vaccine,” Duterte said.

National Task Force against COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. bared that the country’s top diplomats have been coordinating with their counterparts to ensure the Philippines’s access to coronavirus vaccines once it becomes available.

“Vaccine may come later this year and we are ready to get it because of the President’s diplomatic efforts… So, in case a vaccine is developed, we will be one of the countries who will have access to this,” Galvez said.

Optimism shared

In a statement, the Department of Health (DoH) said it “shares the optimism” of President Duterte that the Philippines will have access to COVID-19 vaccines soon.

The government’s task force on COVID-19 recently approved the country’s participation in Gavi COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), a financing mechanism aimed at encouraging manufacturers to increase the supply of COVID-19 vaccines by giving them incentives.

Galvez also said that the DoH has been negotiating with manufacturers to lower the price of COVID-19 treatment medicines such as Remdesivir and Avigan, as well as high-flow nasal cannulas — a breathing support system hailed as a safer alternative than mechanical ventilators.

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sonny Angara warned on Thursday that the Philippines cannot afford to have its capital placed again under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) as this might trigger an economic collapse,

“The economy will probably collapse if we will go back to MECQ. We are just postponing the inevitable. Because that type of approach is not really the model approach,” Angara said in a television interview.

He explained that the government must look into an approach where the Philippines should adapt to a life with the COVID-19 virus and that requires frequent testing and other health protocols.

“The model approach is trying to live with COVID not to avoid COVID. The lockdown approach is trying to avoid it and trying to postpone the inevitable,” Angara said.

“But really, at some point in time you have to face it and you need to learn how to live with the virus you have to increase your testing whether you are a private company or the government. You have to periodically test your people because the virus is alive and thriving,” he further explained.

The entire National Capital Region is under the general community quarantine for almost two months as the government plans to open the economy gradually.

The hard lockdown which was implemented in March to May, has stopped the operations of most industries and lessened the economic activity in the country.

President Rodrigo Duterte was expected to announce a new quarantine measure on Thursday.

For the part of the government, Angara assured the public that Congress is working on economic stimulus packages that will help the critically-impacted sectors recover from the adverse impact of COVID-19.

Angara made the statement after economist and House Assistant Minority Leader Stella Quimbo questioned the administration’s non-inclusion of the P1.3 trillion stimulus package tagged as Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy bill among President Duterte’s priority bills.

with Elmer N. Manuel

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