MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has lauded Russia’s efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine and is willing to personally participate in trials, as he welcomed a supply offer from Moscow that he expects will be free of charge.
Russia on Tuesday became the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval for a COVID-19 vaccine, paving the way for mass domestic inoculation even as the final stage of clinical trials continue.
Russia has offered to supply or co-manufacture the vaccine in the Philippines, which said it was ready to work with Moscow on trials, supply and production.
The Philippines has among Asia’s highest case numbers, which rose by 2,987 to 139,538 on Tuesday.
“I will tell President (Vladimir) Putin that I have huge trust in your studies in combating COVID and I believe that the vaccine that you have produced is really good for humanity,” Duterte said late on Monday.
The global race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine has raised concern that speed and national prestige could compromise safety.
To allay public fears, Duterte offered to be a guinea pig and said: “I can be the first they can experiment on.”
In July, he made a plea to his Chinese counterpart to make the Philippines a priority if it develops a vaccine, amid concern in developing countries about availability.
He has restored a strict lockdown in and around the capital Manila as medical frontliners sought a “timeout” to control surging infections.
Speaking on Monday, when a record 6,958 new infections were reported, Duterte said he would deploy soldiers to enforce the lockdown if the situation becomes a “runaway contagion”.
The lockdown has been among the world’s longest and toughest and Duterte’s opponents and rights groups have voiced concern about his security-centred approach and the conduct of police.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday said a comprehensive health-centred strategy should be adopted urgently, otherwise “our health infrastructure could collapse”.
(Editing by Martin Petty)