By Gillian M. Cortez and Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporters

THE PHILIPPINE government is in talks with Australia and China for the purchase of the two countries’ excess supply of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines, according to Secretary Carlito G. Galvez, Jr.

“Our negotiations with them are ongoing,” Mr. Galvez, appointed vaccine czar, told President Rodrigo R. Duterte during a televised late Monday night meeting of the task force handling the COVID-19 response.

Mr. Galvez said these two countries, which have reserved vaccine doses that are more than their respective populations, are “more than willing” to share their supply.

Last week, Mr. Galvez said 80% of the global COVID-19 vaccine supply were already prepurchased by more developed countries.

The government plans to vaccinate more than half of the 109 million population within the next three years to establish herd immunity.

In the meantime, Mr. Duterte appealed for people to avoid gatherings during the coming holidays to prevent local transmissions and outbreaks.

“You might think that this is too much. Government does not control us. Of course, we cannot control you individually if what you do is what you want. The problem is, we are preventing you from getting other people sick,” Mr. Duterte said during the Monday meeting.

“Would you be kind enough just to skip the — not really frivolous but the festivities… You avoid it because it is for your own good and for the good of the community and eventually for the good of the country,” he added.

The Department of Health (DoH), in a statement on Tuesday, also asked the public to refrain from holding activities that have a higher risk of virus transmission such as karaoke singing.

“According to a recent study published in the Aerosol Science and Technology Journal, loud singing increases viral particle spread by 448% compared to normal talking,” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III warned.

He also said Filipinos should “opt to have a solemn celebration” for Christmas and New Year.

The DoH, in a statement last week, reminded the public of the risks of holding large family and social gatherings, especially indoors or confined settings.

Under the current government guidelines, mass gatherings such as for movie screening, concerts, other entertainment activities and non-essential work get-togethers are prohibited in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ). Religious gatherings are allowed up to 30% of the venue’s capacity.

Areas under the more relaxed modified GCQ, mass gathering such as entertainment activities, religious services, and work conference are allowed with only up to 50% of the venue capacity.

Coronavirus infections in the country rose by 1,400 on Tuesday, bringing the total to 442,785, the Department of Health reported.

The death toll rose by 98 to 8,670.

Recoveries, meanwhile, increased by 139 to 408,790, it said in its daily bulletin.

There were 25,325 active cases,  84.8% of which were mild, 6.6% did not show symptoms, 5.5% were critical, 2.8% were severe, and 0.32% were moderate.

Benguet province reported the highest number of new cases at 101, followed by Davao City at 90, Quezon City at 82, Rizal at 75, and Laguna at 56.

The Health department said 14 duplicates were removed from the tally while 43 cases tagged as recovered were reclassified as deaths.

Nine laboratories failed to submit their data on Dec. 7, it said.

About 5.7 million individuals have been tested for coronavirus as of Dec. 6, the DoH said on its tracker website.