MADRID (Reuters) – A substantial part of the Spanish population will be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the first half of 2021, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Friday, highlighting also a steadily slowing pace of contagion after restrictions imposed in recent weeks.
The government has set aside over 1 billion euros for coronavirus vaccines next year and created a committee to establish who comes first.
Sanchez told a news conference the government would unveil a vaccination plan on Tuesday, without elaborating.
Promising data from Phase III trials of potential vaccines by Pfizer <PFE.N> and BioNTech <22UAy.DE>, Moderna <MRNA.O> and others has recently boosted hopes that vaccines against the pandemic disease may be ready for use soon.
Officials have said Spain hoped to get the first 20 million vaccine doses from Pfizer in early 2021. There is also a plan to buy 31.6 million doses of the vaccine being developed by Britain’s AstraZeneca <AZN.L> between December and June, if it is ready.
The vaccination would be free, according to Health Minister Salvador Illa.
Spain’s death toll from the coronavirus rose by 328 to 42,619 on Friday, while cumulative cases rose by more than 15,000 to 1,556,730.
Spain, which has western Europe’s second highest tally of infections after France, imposed a six-month state of emergency at the end of October, giving regions legal backing to impose curfews and restrict travel.
Sanchez said that path had proven to be adequate.
“For two consecutive weeks, we have seen new infections falling at a sustained pace,” he said.
New infections measured over the past 14 days have fallen to 436 per 100,000 people from 530 in the first week of November, he said.
But there are no signs yet of restrictions being lifted.
The government of the Madrid region, one of Spain’s worst-hit, said on Friday it would prevent people from leaving and entering for 10 days from Dec. 4 to avoid mass travel around the Dec. 6 Constitution Day holiday.
“We want to be in the best possible condition by Christmas,” said Antonio Zapatero, head of Madrid’s COVID-19 response.
New infections in Madrid have already fallen to less than 300 per 100,000 people from a peak of 800 in late September.
(Reporting by Inti Landauro and Emma Pinedo, writing by Andrei Khalip,; Editing by Ingrid Melander, Nick Macfie and Gareth Jones)