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SE Asia jabs rollout gains momentum

By PRIME SARMIENTO in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2021-03-01 09:57
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A man receives a shot of COVID-19 vaccine from China's Sinovac in Bangkok, Thailand, Feb 28, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

Deliveries of China's CoronaVac vaccine help to build confidence in region's efforts

Countries in Southeast Asia are bolstering their efforts against the coronavirus with shipments of a Chinese-developed COVID-19 vaccine.

On Sunday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was on hand for the arrival at a Manila airport of a batch of a vaccine from Sinovac Biotech, known as CoronaVac. A day earlier, Malaysian officials welcomed a shipment of the same vaccine in Malaysia.

And in Thailand, where supplies of CoronaVac landed in Bangkok on Wednesday, vaccinations began on Sunday. That development prompted the Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to call it a historic day.

In Manila, the CoronaVac supplies were given by China as part of a promise made by Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on a visit to the Philippine capital in January.

Vaccinations with CoronaVac were scheduled to begin on Monday, and they are expected to reduce the number of infections in the country and aid its economic recovery.

In a statement on his Facebook account, China's Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said the vaccine donation attests to the "solidarity as well as profound friendship and partnership" between China and the Philippines.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III and the head of the national COVID-19 task force, Carlito Galvez, are expected to get the first jabs.

The Philippines, which has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia, has been criticized for a slow vaccine rollout. There were 576,352 COVID-19 cases reported by Sunday, according to the Johns Hopkins University in the US.

Alicia Garcia-Herrero, chief economist for Asia-Pacific at the French investment bank Natixis, said the Philippine vaccine program is "not so late" and the economist expects the economy "will do fine" this year thanks to a "huge base effect" from last year.

In contrast, Victor Abola, senior economist at the University of Asia and the Pacific in Manila, said the tardy vaccine distribution will delay the country's economic rebound.

Sunday's CoronaVac delivery makes up part of the 5.1 million doses of vaccines scheduled to arrive in the Philippines in the first quarter.

In Bangkok, the shipment of CoronaVac on Wednesday amounted to 200,000 doses. The Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul was among the first officials to get the shots at the country's main infectious diseases institute.

Prayut, who presided over the initial round of vaccinations, said no adverse reactions were reported.

'A historic day'

"It's a historic day and a day to help the country rebuild confidence against the pandemic," he said.

In Kuala Lumpur, the arrival of the vaccine on Saturday at the city's international airport brought together Chinese Ambassador Ouyang Yujing with Malaysian ministers.

The shipment amounted to 200 liters of the vaccine.

The cooperation with China was "extremely important in ensuring that we could also include the Chinese vaccines in our portfolio", Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said in a news briefing.

Nazihah Muhamad Noor, a public health researcher at the Khazanah Research Institute, a think tank in Kuala Lumpur, welcomed Malaysia's vaccination progress. The country has "a great track record of carrying out past vaccination campaigns", she said.

Nazihah said that one of the benefits of not being the first country to start on vaccinations is that Malaysia can learn from the experiences of others.

Yang Han in Hong Kong and Xinhua contributed to this story.

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