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Philippines detects Indian coronavirus variant

By Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporters

PHILIPPINE health authorities on Tuesday said a least two people have tested positive for the coronavirus variant first detected in India, a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) classified it as a variant of concern.

One was a 37-year-old migrant Filipino from Oman, while the other is a 38-year-old who came from the United Arab Emirates, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told an online news briefing.

Both patients have recovered.

The first patient arrived on April 10 and recovered from COVID-19 16 days later. The other arrived on April 19 and recovered 17 days later, Alethea De Guzman, director of the Health department’s epidemiology bureau, told the briefing. Both had not traveled to India.

Their co-passengers have tested negative for the virus.

The Department of Health (DoH) reported 4,734 coronavirus infections on Tuesday, bringing the total to 1.11 million.

The death toll rose by 59 to 18,620, while recoveries increased by 7,837 to 1.04 million, it said in a bulletin.

There were 56,752 active cases, 1.4% of which were critical, 93.4% were mild, 2.2% did not show symptoms, 1.8% were severe and 1.17% were moderate.

The agency traced the low tally to fewer samples from laboratories on Sunday. Twelve laboratories failed to submit data.

Thirteen duplicates had been removed from the tally, 10 of which were tagged as recoveries and one as death. Nineteen recoveries were reclassified as deaths.

About 11.6 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of May 9, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened about 159.6 million and killed 3.3 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

About 137.3 million people have recovered, it said.

The government earlier banned travelers from India until May 14 to prevent the entry of the coronavirus variant blamed for the surge in infections there. Travelers from nearby Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka were also barred.

The Indian variant is said to be a “double mutant” because it has two mutations in the spike protein of the virus, allowing it to multiply faster.

Other coronavirus variants that have reached the Philippines are those first detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil.

Also on Tuesday, the presidential palace said the government would take delivery of more than 11 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from different drug makers this month.

The Philippines would take delivery of about 1.1 million doses of the vaccine made by Pfizer, Inc. this month, as well as half-a-million doses of CoronaVac made by Sinovac Biotech, Ltd. and about two million doses of Sputnik V made by Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, presidential spokesman Herminio L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing.

He earlier said the government would take delivery of at least seven million doses of coronavirus vaccines this month.

Mr. Roque said the decision of the WHO to include the vaccine developed by China’s Sinopharm Group Co., Ltd. on its emergency use list would boost the country’s access to effective vaccines.

“This development would strengthen our diversified vaccine portfolio as we continue to work on improving access to safe and effective vaccines, including Sinopharm,” he said in a statement.

The Philippine Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization to the coronavirus vaccines made by AstraZeneca Plc, Sinovac, India’s Bharat Biotech International Limited, Gamaleya, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna, Inc.

The government on Monday night got its first batch of 193,050 doses of Pfizer vaccines under a global initiative for equal access.

Meanwhile, vaccine czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. said the country would have vaccinated about 25 million Filipinos to achieve herd containment by September.

The target is composed of healthcare workers, senior citizens and seriously ill people, he said at a televised meeting with Cabinet officials on Monday night

“Once we already have the science that we can give the vaccine even to the children, we will target the 110 million population.”

Mr. Galvez on Monday said the Philippines would take delivery of as many as 40 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer, Inc. by the third quarter, as it tries to boost its vaccination drive.

The first shipment of Pfizer vaccines should have arrived in February but was delayed due to logistical problems and after the government failed to sign a document freeing the drug maker from potential lawsuits.

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