THE DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH) reported 1,949 coronavirus infections on Sunday, bringing the total to 513,619.

The death toll rose by 53 to 10,242, while recoveries increased 7,729 to 475,612, it said in a bulletin.

There were 27,765 active cases, 83.3% of which were mild, 9.1% did not show symptoms, 4.4% were critical, 2.7% were severe and 0.53% were moderate.

Davao City reported the highest number of infections at 99, followed by Quezon City at 98, Cavite at 74, Baguio City at 73 and Leyte at 63.

The agency said eight duplicates and one case that tested negative had been removed from the tally, while two recovered cases were reclassified as deaths. Five laboratories failed to submit their data on Jan. 23.

About 7.1 million Filipinos have been tested for the coronavirus as of Jan. 20, according to DoH’s tracker website.

The coronavirus has sickened about 99.4 million and killed about 2.1 million people worldwide, according to the Worldometers website, citing various sources including data from the World Health Organization (WHO). About 71.4 million people have recovered, it said.

On Friday, the Health department reported 16 more infections with the more contagious coronavirus strain that was first detected in the United Kingdom. Three of the patients had recovered, it said.

DoH said 12 of the cases were from Bontoc, Mountain Province and two patients were returning migrant Filipinos from Lebanon who arrived on Dec. 29.

The two other cases were detected in La Trinidad, Benguet and in Calamba City, Laguna. Both had no contact with any confirmed cases or travel history, the agency said.

A 29-year-old Filipino who arrived from the United Arab Emirates  (UAE) on Jan. 7 was the first patient reported to have been infected with the coronavirus strain.

DoH said it was continuing surveillance and expanding capacities to detect all coronavirus variants. It also called on local government units (LGUs) to ensure strict monitoring and compliance with health protocols.

Meanwhile, a senator has filed a bill seeking to exempt coronavirus vaccines imported by local governments and the private sector from tax.

Senate Bill 1988 by Senator Imee R. Marcos will exempt the vaccines from duties, value-added and excise taxes.

The exemption would help the government deliver a “clear, proper and immediate vaccination program for Filipinos,” she said in the bill’s explanatory note.

Some local governments and private companies are in talks with drug makers for vaccine orders.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Pfizer, Inc. and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, which has a 95% efficacy, for emergency use.

The Philippines is expected to get 40 million doses of free vaccines in the first quarter of the year under a global program meant to give all countries equal access.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said in a mobile phone message he would support Ms. Marcos’s bill. A similar bill has been filed at the House of Representatives. 

Vaccine Czar Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. earlier said the government plans to buy 148 million doses of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines for as many as 70 million Filipinos this year.

Unilab, Inc. and Faberco Life Sciences, Inc. on Friday signed an agreement that will give the private sector access to its Covovax coronavirus vaccine.

In a statement, Unilab said Faberco, the distributor of Covovax in the Philippines, had appointed it as an authorized partner.

“Unilab and Faberco share the same vision and advocacy in terms of providing access to as many Filipinos at the soonest possible time,” Faberco founder Kishore Hemlani said in the statement. “We are prepared to help the Philippine government in protecting the people by enabling more access to COVID-19 vaccines through the private sector.”

“This initiative is not for a business purpose but to help the country secure more vaccine allocations,” Unilab Senior Vice President Jose Maria A. Ochave said. “The vaccines will be made available to the private sector, especially hospitals and essential industries, with the condition that they be made available at no cost to their employees.”

The vaccines may also be extended to employees’ families and their selected communities depending on the company’s financial capability, he said.

The government on Jan. 9 signed a term sheet with manufacturer Serum Institute of India and local partner Faberco for the supply of 30 million doses of Covovax. The vaccine is developed by US biotechnology company Novavax and manufactured by Serum Institute. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas and Charmaine A. Tadalan