* Stricter travel measures in countries with UK variant
* Duterte warns of return of lockout
* The Philippines in talks for 80 million doses of vaccines (refoundations are leading, adds Duterte quotes, details, background)
By Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA, Dec.26 (Reuters) – The Philippines on Saturday approved measures to slow the spread of new, more infectious coronavirus variants, as President Rodrigo Duterte warned of a second lockdown if cases increase before the country receives her first vaccines in May.
Countries around the world have in recent days closed their borders to flights from Britain and South Africa, where more infectious variants have been detected.
Duterte extended an existing ban on flights from Britain by two weeks in mid-January, and said the Philippines would impose travel restrictions on countries with local community transmission of the UK variant. Over 469,000 infections and 9,067 deaths, the Philippines has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases and victims in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia.
However, neither the UK nor the South African variant has yet been detected there.
In an emergency meeting with health experts and government officials, Duterte also ordered a 14-day quarantine for passengers coming in or having transited through Britain, and countries where the variant most infectious of COVID-19 identified for the first time has been detected, including Hong Kong. , Singapore, Australia and Japan.
Duterte has pledged free vaccines for the country’s 108 million people, with shipments and inoculation set to begin in May.
“If (in the meantime) the gravity of the numbers demanded that we take corrective action immediately, then we should just have to go back to lockdown,” he said.
In mid-March, the Philippines imposed one of the world‘s longest and most difficult coronavirus lockdowns, which was gradually eased in June to allow the economy to slowly reopen.
The Philippines is in talks to acquire around 80 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, including from Pfizer Inc (NYSE :), Moderna and AstraZeneca UK, as well as Johnson & Johnson (NYSE :), Novavax Inc in India, Sinovac in China and Gamaleya Institute in Russia.