SINGAPORE, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Singapore has approved Pfizer-BioNTech's (PFE.N) novel coronavirus vaccine and expects to receive shots by year-end, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday, adding that he planned to be among the early vaccine recipients.
The city-state of 5.7 million people expects to have enough vaccines for everyone by the third quarter of 2021 and will make it free for citizens and long-term residents, Lee, 68, said.
While vaccination will be voluntary, Lee said he and other government officials would be among the early recipients after healthcare workers, other front-line personnel, the elderly and the vulnerable.
"My colleagues and I, including the older ones, will be getting ourselves vaccinated early. This is to show you, especially seniors like me, that we believe the vaccines are safe," Lee said in a national broadcast.
Singapore has also signed advanced purchase agreements and made early down-payments on promising vaccine candidates including those being developed by Moderna and Sinovac, setting aside more than $1 billion for shots, authorities said.
"We have acquired sufficient doses of the vaccines for all Singaporeans and long-term residents," the health ministry's director of medical services, Kenneth Mak, later told a media briefing.
The United States, Canada and a handful of other countries have approved the Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and BioNTech SE (22UAy.DE) vaccine, with a mass inoculation programme underway in Britain and one getting going in the United States.
Lee also said Singapore would lift some anti-virus curbs from Dec. 28, including allowing groups of eight to congregate in public, up from a limit of five.
"Our situation is now stable," Lee said. "Now that vaccines are becoming available, we can see light at the end of the tunnel."
Singapore has reported only a handful of local cases of COVID-19 over the last two months.
Of Singapore's more than 58,000 cases, 29 people have died - one of the world's lowest fatality rates. More than 70 million people have been infected with the virus worldwide with 1.61 million deaths, according to a Reuters tally.
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