Philippines Detects First Case of More Contagious Virus Strain

(Bloomberg) --

The Philippines said it detected in a passenger who arrived from the United Arab Emirates the first case of the more contagious Covid-19 strain that recently emerged in the U.K.

The patient, who arrived on Jan. 7, is under quarantine and authorities are tracking the other passengers from the flight, the Department of Health said in a mobile-phone statement on Wednesday.

Read: Why the U.K.’s Mutated Coronavirus Is Fanning Worries: QuickTake

Meanwhile, the government is set to sign a deal with AstraZeneca Plc on Thursday for up to 20 million additional doses of its vaccines, of which the first shipments could arrive this quarter. Private companies and local officials are helping the central government secure AstraZeneca shots, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said at a televised briefing on Wednesday.

The first vaccines to arrive in the Philippines will likely be from Pfizer Inc. -- to be obtained through the World Health Organization-backed Covax facility -- and Sinovac Biotech Ltd., Galvez said. The Philippines, which has Southeast Asia’s second-worst coronavirus outbreak, aims to buy 148 million vaccine doses to inoculate more than half of the population this year.

The government has secured 137 million doses for next year, and these could rise to as high as 172 million, excluding 42 million doses from Covax, Galvez said.

President Rodrigo Duterte, in a briefing on Wednesday evening, defended the Chinese vaccine, saying they are as good as those manufactured in the U.S. or Europe. His spokesman said earlier that the president wants to be inoculated with a vaccine from either China or Russia as soon as possible.

Read: China’s Covid Shot Has Four Wildly Different Efficacy Rates (1)

Local government units are free to choose the vaccine they wish to give to their constituents, Duterte said.

The Philippines is in final talks with Moderna Inc. for at least 10 million doses, with an option of adding 10 million more, to be delivered by mid-year, CNN Philippines reported, citing Philippine ambassador to the U.S. Jose Manuel Romualdez.

The Health Department on Wednesday reported 146 more deaths due to Covid-19 -- the most since Sept. 14, based on Bloomberg data and the second straight day that the count exceeded 100. Total coronavirus cases were at over 492,000.

(Updates with the detection of new virus strain, Duterte comments.)