MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday said the members of the private sector can now buy COVID-19 vaccines on their own, amid an alarming spike in coronavirus infections in the country.
Duterte announced in a public briefing that he has ordered vaccine czar and National COVID-19 Task Force chief implementer Carlito Galvez Jr. to "sign any and all documents that would allow the private sector to import at will" COVID-19 vaccines.
"Maski magkano, ilan ang gusto nila ipasok, okay sa'kin," he said.
Businessmen have been clamoring to buy their own COVID-19 vaccines for their workers, Duterte noted, adding this would help the economy reopen.
Galvez earlier said the private sector and local government units can only purchase COVID-19 vaccines through a tripartite agreement with the national government so that coronavirus shots won't be "commercialized". Private companies, along with the national government, signed deals with drugmakers AstraZeneca and Moderna for at least 37 million coronavirus jabs.
Duterte's move to allow importation of COVID-19 vaccines by the private sector came on the same day Metro Manila and nearby provinces were placed again under a tough lockdown, which is supposed to end on April 4, as infections in the country also reached another all-time high.
The Philippines' largest business group earlier warned the country is in a "far worse" situation than it was when it went on lockdown last August, urging government to allow private firms to assist in COVID-19 tracing and vaccination efforts so resorting to lockdowns won't be an option again.
Earlier Monday, the Philippines on Monday another 1 million COVID-19 shots from Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech, its first batch of procured coronavirus vaccine. The delivery raises the country's total stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines to a little over 2.5 million doses, more than 650,000 of which have already been administered.
As of Monday, the Philippines has confirmed 731,894 COVID-19 cases, nearly 14 months after confirming its first case.