Philippines posts record daily COVID-19 cases, approves Russian vaccine

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines recorded 7,103 new coronavirus cases on Friday, a record daily increase in infections, as authorities tightened coronavirus curbs in the capital and approved Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use.

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A new wave of cases in the Philippines, which has the second highest number of COVID-19 infections and deaths in Southeast Asia, is threatening hopes of a strong economic rebound after a record contraction last year and the loss of millions of jobs.

The health ministry said there were now 648,066 confirmed coronavirus cases and 12,900 deaths, including 13 more fatalities on Friday.

“The ministry continues to appeal for us to stay home and avoid going out if not necessary,” it said. The previous record was 6,958 cases on Aug. 10.

The latest outbreak is again concentrated on the congested Manila region, and includes the more transmissible variants.

The coronavirus task force on Friday reduced the number allowed at religious gatherings and conferences to 30% of capacity from the previous 50% until April 4.

It also ordered cinemas, driving schools, libraries, museums and cockfighting arenas to close.

The Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday approved the Sputnik V vaccine developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Institute.

The first deliveries of Sputnik V from Russia are expected in April, the head of Russia’s RDIF sovereign wealth fund, which markets the shot abroad, told Reuters.

“We have great demand for Sputnik vaccines from 52 nations where we are registered but we will prioritise the Philippines and deliver the first volumes in April,” RDIF CEO Kirill Dmitriev said.

Sputnik V is the fourth shot to get emergency use authorisation after vaccines from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Sinovac.

Carlito Galvez, who is in charge of the Philippines’ vaccine procurement, said on Friday that the government would request Russia to deliver around three million doses in April and May.

“The known and potential benefits of the Gamaleya Sputnik V vaccine... outweigh the known and potential risks,” FDA chief Rolando Enrique Domingo said, adding that interim data showed the vaccine had an efficacy of 91.6% in age groups 18 and older.

U.S. vaccine makers Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have made inquiries about the documents needed for emergency use approval but have yet to file applications, Domingo said.

The Philippines launched its inoculation drive on March 1 and has received delivery of 1.125 million donated doses of the Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines.

The government plans to roll out 140.5 million shots by December, to inoculate 70 million adults as it seeks to achieve herd immunity.

Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Ed Davies and Emelia Sithole-Matarise