Members of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's security team have received a Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine, officials said Monday -- the first people in the country to be officially immunised despite no regulatory approval.

Security team for Philippines’ Duterte gets unauthorised Covid-19 vaccine

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Members of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s security team have received a Chinese-made coronavirus vaccine, officials said Monday — the first people in the country to be officially immunised despite no regulatory approval.

The Philippines is in talks with several pharmaceutical firms, including Britain’s AstraZeneca, US company Pfizer and China’s Sinopharm, to secure 60 million doses for a vaccination drive starting as early as the second quarter of 2021.

No vaccine has been approved by the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is required before it can be rolled out across the country of 110 million people.

But the Presidential Security Group (PSG) — which is tasked with protecting Duterte — said some of its personnel have already been inoculated.

“The PSG administered Covid-19 vaccine to its personnel performing close-in security operations to the President,” unit chief Brigadier General Jesus Durante said in a statement, without specifying how many got the drug.

Asked if Duterte had been immunised, Durante said the president was still waiting “for the perfect or appropriate vaccine”.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Sinopharm drug was given to the soldiers, confirming Duterte’s comments at the weekend that “a select few” had been inoculated with the Chinese vaccine.

Roque did not explain how the drug was obtained or the number of doses received. The Chinese embassy in Manila did not respond to AFP’s request for comment.

Duterte has previously expressed confidence in vaccines made by China and Russia, even offering himself up as a guinea pig for the very first jab of Moscow’s controversial “Sputnik V”.

Roque played down concerns about the safety of the Sinopharm drug, saying it was meant to send a message of hope to Filipinos.

“The news is that the vaccine is already here and if we cannot be given Western vaccines, our friend and neighbour China is willing to give us vaccines,” Roque said.

“It’s not prohibited under the law to get inoculated with an unregistered (vaccine). What is illegal is the distribution and selling.”

– ‘No guarantee on safety’ –
More than 470,000 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in the Philippines and authorities fear a post-Christmas surge in infections.

The FDA issued a statement Monday warning against the use of unauthorised vaccines, noting there was “no guarantee on the safety, quality and efficacy” of a drug that has not undergone technical evaluation by the regulator.

So far, the Philippines has signed a deal with AstraZeneca for 2.6 million doses of its vaccine and hopes to secure another 30 million from the company using public and private funding.

Pfizer has applied for emergency use authorisation for its vaccine.

China has four vaccines, including Sinopharm, in the final stages of development and is well advanced with mass human testing in a number of countries.

But, unlike vaccines being developed by Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, little information has been published about the safety or efficacy of the Chinese drugs.

Agence France-Presse

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Kung ayaw ni Sara: Panelo floats Bong Go as Duterte’s successor

Senator Christopher Lawrence Go is also qualified to become President Rodrigo Duterte’s successor in 2022, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Friday.

He made the statement three days after Duterte made a firm stance that his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara “Inday” Duterte, would not run for president in next year’s elections.

Panelo, who is one of those who initiated the clamor for Sara’s presidency, said Go also has the potential to lead the country.

“Meron na tayong dalawang pinagpipilian kung talagang ayaw ni Mayor Sara, kung hindi na magbago ang isipan niya (At least, we now have two options if Mayor Sara decides not to run and will no longer change her mind),” he said. “Kung hindi tatakbo si Mayor Sara, oh eh di pwede na rin si Senator Bong Go (If Mayor Sara does not run, we can have Senator Bong Go).”

During a situational briefing on the impact of Tropical Storm Auring in Tandag City on Tuesday, Surigao del Sur Governor Alexander Pimentel urged Duterte to convince either Sara or Go to join the 2022 presidential race.

The President, however, was opposed to Pimentel’s call to let his daughter succeed him when he steps down next year.

Panelo said Duterte, during the situational briefing in Tandag City, instead encouraged Go to pursue the presidential bid.

He said Duterte saw potential in Go who served as his long-time aide before getting elected as a senator.

“Mukhang sa pananaw niya, ito naman si Bong Go. Nakita ni Presidente, aba okay ‘to ah (For him, Bong Go should be given the chance. The President believes Go can do the job),” Panelo said.

He also floated the possibility of a Go-Duterte tandem in 2022.

“Kita niyo, Go-Duterte, hindi ba maganda (Go-Duterte is good, isn’t it?),” he said.

Continuing Duterte’s legacy

Panelo said there would be continuity of Duterte’s legacy, in case Go decides to join the 2022 presidential derby.

Like Duterte, he said, Go also shows compassion to Filipinos and exhibits courage.

Panelo, however, acknowledged that Go is not yet ready to take on the presidency.

“Sinasabi niya (Go), gusto ko lang serbisyo. Exactly, kung gusto mo serbisyo, eh ‘di tumakbo kang president, maging president ka. Eh ‘di continue ng service mo at the same time, continuity rin ng legacy ni Presidente (He said he just wants to serve the public. You should run for president and be the president if you want to continue serving the people. At the same time, there would be continuity of the President’s legacy),” he said.

Fight vs. corruption

As the country’s chief executive, Duterte vowed to curb illegal drugs, criminality, and corruption under his watch.

In a public address delivered on Wednesday, the President renewed his vow to fight corruption until the end of his term but admitted that it is impossible to have an “entirely clean” government.

Panelo said Duterte’s successor should have the same resolve to stop corruption in government.

“Corruption remains at talagang kahit pa ‘yung susunod kay Presidente, mahihirapan din (Corruption remains and the President’s successor would also have a difficult time dealing with it). But like the president, he can always, as he did, reduce and minimize corruption,” he said. (PNA)

Kanya-kanyang diskarte LGU! Palace: COVID-19 testing no longer required for travelers

Malacañang on Saturday announced that it is no longer mandatory for travelers to undergo coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) testing and quarantine.

“Travelers shall no longer be required to undergo Covid-19 testing, except if the local government unit (LGU) of destination will make testing as a requirement prior to travel. Testing will be limited to RT-PCR (reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) test,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press statement.

However, travelers who exhibit symptoms upon arrival at their destination have to undergo quarantine, Roque said.

This developed after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) approved on Friday the uniform travel protocols for land, air, and sea that need to be observed by all LGUs, he said.

The approved protocols, Roque said, were crafted by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in close coordination with the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines, League of Provinces of the Philippines, League of Municipalities of the Philippines, and the League of Cities of the Philippines.

Despite the easing of restrictions for travelers, he said travelers should still follow minimum public health standards.

“Authorities shall continue to strictly implement the minimum public health standards, such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and the wearing of face masks and face shields across all settings,” Roque said.

He said the strict implementation of clinical and exposure assessment in all ports of entry and exit still needs to be observed.

The health assessment of passengers, supervised by medical doctors, will be mandatory upon entry into the port or terminal and exit at the point of destination, Roque said.

“On documentary requirements, the travel authority issued by the Joint Task Force Covid Shield and health certificates shall no longer be required,” he said.

However, authorized persons outside of residence (APORs) from national government agencies and their attached agencies must provide their identification card, travel order, and travel itinerary, Roque said.

“They must likewise pass symptom-screening at the ports of entry and exit,” he added.

One-stop shop application

Roque said the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) Safe, Swift, and Smart Passage (S-PaSS) Travel Management System will now be institutionalized as the “one-stop shop application or communication” for travelers.

“The StaySafe.ph System shall be utilized as the primary contact tracing system. Other existing contact tracing applications, such as Traze App, must be integrated with the StaySafe.ph System,” he said.

Roque said all ports and terminals must have sufficient isolation facilities.

All ports and terminals, he added, should also have a referral system so symptomatic travelers could be transferred to quarantine facilities, enabling the Bureau of Quarantine for airports or local health officials for LGUs to take over.

Roque said all buses in Metro Manila bound for the provinces are also required to use the Integrated Terminal Exchange as the central hub for transportation.

“At the option of the LGUs, they may provide transportation for all travelers who are transiting from one LGU to another in cases of arrivals at air and seaports to their end-point destinations,” he said.

Roque said the LGUs, DILG, DOST, the departments of health, tourism, and transportation, and the Philippine National Police should ensure the “smooth” implementation of the approved protocols. (PNA)

Status quo pa rin: Metro Manila to stay under GCQ in March

Metro Manila will remain under general community quarantine (GCQ) in March, Malacañang announced on Saturday.

President Rodrigo Duterte approved the new quarantine status that will be implemented next month, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in an announcement aired over state-run PTV-4.

Roque said GCQ would also be imposed in Apayao, Baguio City, Kalinga, Mt. Province, Batangas, Tacloban City, Iligan City, Davao City, and Lanao del Sur.

He said the rest of the country would stay under the least restrictive modified GCQ (MGCQ) from March 1 to 31.

“Lahat po ng mga lugar na hindi natin nabanggit ay nasa modified general community quarantine (All other areas we did not mention are placed under modified general community quarantine),” Roque said.

The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), as well as the Metro Manila mayors, initially recommended the imposition of the most relaxed MGCQ in the entire Philippines in March.

Duterte, however, turned down the proposed nationwide shift to MGCQ until the government starts the rollout of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccines.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles on February 23 said the President is taking a “step-by-step” approach to the plan to place the entire country under MGCQ.

Nograles also said the Cabinet “100 percent” supports Duterte’s latest decision.

The IATF-EID would stick to the “month-to-month” assessment even if the government starts its mass immunization drive.

Duterte is set to lead the simple turnover rites of Covid-19 vaccines from China’s Sinovac Biotech on Sunday. (PNA)

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