Duterte tells US: Deliver 20 million vaccines or get out

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told the US on Saturday that he would push through with his plan to terminate the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) unless it was able to provide the coronavirus-ravaged country with vaccines.

Mr Duterte ordered the termination of the VFA earlier this year but suspended the six-month countdown in November before the military agreement lapsed. The deal allows American soldiers to hold military exercises in the Philippines.

"If they are not able to deliver a minimum of 20 million vaccines, they better get out. No vaccine, no stay here," Mr Duterte said during a meeting.

If the US wants to provide vaccines, it should just do so without making "so much noise".

He noted the US was scrambling to produce vaccines for its people, with US pharmaceutical company Pfizer "up to its neck producing it for everybody". And yet, he said, it was promising to provide many countries with vaccines against the virus.

With more than 469,000 infections and 9,060 deaths, the Philippines has the second highest number of Covid-19 cases and casualties in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.

The Philippines also approved measures on Saturday to slow the spread of new, more infectious coronavirus variants, and Mr Duterte warned of a second lockdown should cases spike before vaccinations start.

He extended an existing ban on flights from Britain by two weeks to mid-January and said the Philippines would impose travel curbs on countries with local community transmission of the variant.

In an emergency meeting with health experts and government officials, Mr Duterte also ordered a 14-day quarantine for passengers who have come from or transited through Britain, and from countries where the more infectious Covid-19 variant first identified there was detected, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and Japan.

"If (in the meantime) severity in numbers would demand that we take corrective measures immediately, then we should just have to go back to lockdown," he said. - PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ANN, REUTERS