Philippines Detects First Case Of UK Virus Strain

This file photo shows residents wearing government-imposed face masks and face shields to protect them from COVID-19 coronavirus disease in Manila. (AFP Photo)

The Philippines on Wednesday confirmed its first case of a British-identified coronavirus mutation that appears to be more infectious, as authorities scramble to secure vaccine supplies.

Since taking hold in Britain, the fast-spreading new variant has been detected in dozens of countries and territories globally.

President Rodrigo Duterte's government had hoped to keep the mutation out by shutting its borders to foreigners arriving from more than 30 nations.

Filipinos returning home from countries on the list are allowed in, but must undergo 14-days quarantine even if they test negative for COVID-19.

A Filipino businessman who flew to the United Arab Emirates - which is not on the list - on 27 December and returned to Manila on 7 January tested positive for the strain, the health department said.

He is in a quarantine facility as authorities track down other passengers on Emirates flight EK332.

Known contacts of the patient, including his travel partner, who tested negative, are in "strict" quarantine, the department said. 

The Philippines has recorded nearly half a million coronavirus infections and officials fear a surge in cases following family reunions over the Christmas holidays and a massive religious gathering last weekend.

It announced plans this week to begin vaccinating frontline workers next month, most likely with the jab developed by China's Sinovac - despite misgivings among many Filipinos about its efficacy.

The government hopes to secure 148 million doses from seven companies this year - enough for around 70 percent of its population. The bulk of them are expected to arrive in the second half. 

But so far, the government has signed deals for only a fraction of that amount, fuelling criticism that its slowness in procuring vaccines has left the country near the back of the queue.

Duterte on Wednesday repeated his complaint that richer nations had cornered the market for vaccines, leaving the Philippines "at the tail end... of the line". 

The national government has secured 30 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by United States drug maker Novavax and says Beijing has promised 25 million vials of the Sinovac drug.

The private sector has signed up for 2.6 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine developed with Oxford University.

Local governments also have started to sign deals with the United Kingdom-based company. - AFP