Philippine president pledges free coronavirus vaccines for poorest 20 million citizens

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte meets members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Malacanang presidential palace on Thursday. (AP)
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Updated 01 August 2020

Philippine president pledges free coronavirus vaccines for poorest 20 million citizens

  • Government could finance the procurement of 40 million doses of the vaccine

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday announced that 20 million of the country’s poorest citizens will receive free COVID-19 vaccines, which he hoped would happen by December.
The announcement came during Duterte’s address to the nation where he also spoke about the country’s planned “return to normal” by the end of the year, even though like the rest of the world it is still grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.
“I promise you, by the grace of God, I hope by December we will be back to normal. Don’t mind the new normal because as I told you from the start, let’s just wait for a vaccine,” Duterte said. “Just wait till December ... We are not going back to a ‘new normal.’ It’s going to be normal again,” he added.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, who was among the Cabinet members present during the president’s address, said that the government could finance the procurement of 40 million doses of the vaccine, estimated to cost about 20 billion pesos ($400 million).
“We have a financing plan for that. The Department of Health (DoH) estimates that we will need to vaccinate for free a minimum of 20 million people. I don’t know if it’s one vaccine or two shots. So we need 40 million doses; 40 million times $10 per dose is $400 million or roughly 20 billion pesos,” Dominguez said.
“We have a plan and we can execute it as soon as the DoH chooses which vaccine or vaccines they want. Certainly, by late this year, if it’s available, we can already buy it,” he said.
According to Duterte, the first COVID-19 vaccine may come from China, where the disease had originated. He mentioned China’s Sinovac Biotech and Sinopharm Biotech as potential sources of the vaccine.

HIGHLIGHT

President Duterte said the Philippines would be given priority in supplies if China makes a breakthrough with a COVID-19 vaccine.

He cited friendly bilateral ties with China and said that Beijing had “guaranteed” that it would give priority to the Philippines once the vaccine was ready. Besides the poor, Duterte said, the military and police would also be among the first to receive the vaccine.
Drug pushers, whom he called “dogs,” would not be vaccinated.
“I see drug pushers, drug addicts as dogs. I will not help you. You are destroying the Philippines, you are killing people,” he said.
The president also announced that Metro Manila would remain under general community quarantine (GCQ) as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.
Other areas under GCQ are: Cebu City, Bulacan, Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal in Luzon; Lapu-Lapu City, Mandaue City, Talisay City, Minglanilla and Consolacion in the Visayas; and Zamboanga City in Mindanao.
On Friday, the DoH reported a record high of 4,063 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total coronavirus figures in the country to 93,354, of which 26,153 are active cases.
The Philippines’ coronavirus death toll has reached 2,023 after 40 more patients were reported to have died from the disease.


US presidential debate: Biden warns Iran will ‘pay price’ for election interference

Updated 3 min 30 sec ago

US presidential debate: Biden warns Iran will ‘pay price’ for election interference

  • Trump and Biden go toe-to-toe on foreign policy, COVID-19 and race
  • Final debate paints two stark pictures of America’s future

NEW YORK: Joe Biden warned Iran would “pay a price” for interfering in the US election if he is elected president.

During a more orderly second debate with President Donald Trump Thursday, the former vice president looked to take the initiative on foreign attempts to influence voters.

Moderator Kirsten Welker asked Biden about revelations from intelligence officials that Russia and Iran had attempted to meddle in the election and obtained voter registration information.

“We know that Russia has been involved, China has been involved to some degree, and now we learn that Iran has been involved,” Biden said, “They will pay a price if I’m elected.”

(AFP)

John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, said this week that Iran used the information to send threatening emails to voters in Florida.  On Thursday, the US Treasury Department responded with new sanctions against five Iranian entities accused of spreading disinformation and division ahead of the election.

Biden’s warning to Iran would have rankled with Trump and his foreign policy team. The president has imposed a maximum pressure policy on Tehran by withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal and imposing tough sanctions.

Trump accuses the previous administration, in which Joe Biden deputized to Barack Obama, of allowing Iran to further its missile program and expand its militias across the Middle East.

On Russia, Biden said Moscow did not want him to get elected, because they know he would be tough on them.

“They know that I know them. And they know me,” Biden said.

Trump said: “There has been nobody tougher on Russia than Donald Trump.”

He accused Biden of receiving money from foreign companies.

“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” Biden said, arguing that he had released all of his tax returns, unlike the president.

(AFP)

“Release your tax returns or stop talking about corruption,” Biden said. 

While the second and final debate ahead of the Nov. 3 election was a calmer affair than the first one, it was laden with attacks. 

The rules were different this time: microphones were muted for two-minute stretches to allow the other an uninterrupted answer. 

Welker kept the contentious rivals under control, and made sure things were clear and organized at the venue in Belmont University in Nashville. She got the best reviews of the night. 

A viewer tweeted: “Kristen Welker is putting on a master class in how to moderate a presidential debate.”

The two candidates squared off on foreign policy, the economy, race, healthcare, and climate change. 

(AFP)

The debate kicked off with exchanges over the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 in the US, where most states are seeing a dramatic resurgence of the virus. 

Trump defended the way his administration handled COVID-19. “We closed up the greatest economy in the world in order to fight this horrible disease that came from China,” he said.

The president argued that the mortality rate has decreased and a vaccine would probably be ready before the end of the year. 

“We’re rounding the turn. We’re learning to live with it,” said Trump. 

“We’re learning to die with it,” replied Biden, who criticized the president for not having a plan to address the crisis.

“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” Biden said. 

(AFP)

Pivoting to a report that the current administration could not locate the parents of more than 500 children detained at the border with Mexico and separated from their families, Trump said children are brought across the border by “coyotes and drug cartels.” 

Defending his immigration policies, Trump said the border is now more secure than ever. 

He said he is “trying very hard” to reunite children with their parents. 

Biden called the Trump administration’s inability to locate the parents “criminal.” He said Trump’s family separation policy made America a laughingstock: “It violates every notion of who we are as a nation.”

The president then pressed Biden to answer “who built the cages” that were shown in media reports. Biden dodged the answer. 

The cages were built in 2014 by the Obama administration. 

Biden then promised, if elected, to put in motion reforms that would provide a pathway to citizenship, protected from deportation, for undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers”.  “We owe them,” Biden said.

Discussion heated up when Welker breached the race topic, as the country continues to contend with civil unrest over racial injustice and police brutality.  

Biden said the US has “never, ever lived up” to the promise of liberty and equality for all, a principle upon which it was founded.

Trump said that, other than Abraham Lincoln, “nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump.”

He attacked Biden’s support for the 1994 crime law, which critics say has led to mass incarceration.

But Biden turned to the camera and addressed voters directly:  “You know who I am. You know who he is.” 

Biden called the president a “racist” who “pours fuel on every single racist fire.”

(AFP)

“I think I have great relationships with all people. I am the least racist person in this room,” Trump responded.

Twelve days before the election, American voters were able to watch unfold two visions for the future of their country. It is hard to tell whether the candidates were able to broaden their appeal beyond their own bases and attract the undecided voters, whose numbers are shrinking by the day. 

Millions of them are already standing in long lines outside polling stations, braving night and chilly temperatures, to cast their early, final votes.