Beijing reopens borders to Philippine recipients of Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine jabs

The Philippines kicked off its vaccination drive using some of the 600,000 doses of China's Sinovac Biotech vaccine. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (AFP) - Beijing has reopened its borders to certain travellers from the Philippines who have been inoculated with a Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine, its embassy in Manila said Monday (March 15).

China has been shut off to most foreigners since last March after the coronavirus exploded beyond its borders, triggering lockdowns and bringing international travel to a grinding halt.

The decision to relax restrictions for travellers in the Philippines seeking visas for business or family reasons comes after a similar announcement for foreigners living in Hong Kong. It does not apply to tourists.

"To resume orderly cross-border travel, starting from 15 March 2021, China will make facilitation arrangements for visa applicants who have been fully vaccinated by Chinese Covid-19 vaccines with vaccination certificates," the statement said.

The embassy also signalled the decision could be extended beyond the Philippines.

"#China stands ready to discuss with other countries, including the # Philippines, on establishing mutual recognition mechanisms for health certificates to facilitate the issuance of visas," it said on Facebook.

It is not clear if the announcement only applies to Filipinos or also includes foreigners in the Philippines.

Chinese companies are set to export nearly 400 million doses of home-grown vaccines overseas, state media has reported, as it seeks to blunt foreign criticism of the initial spread of the virus from its shores.

The Philippines received 600,000 vaccine doses from China two weeks ago, kickstarting its inoculation drive.

Healthcare workers and soldiers were first in line to receive Sinovac's CoronaVac. But the food and drug regulator did not recommend the vaccine for medical staff due to its comparatively low efficacy.

An advisory group to the Philippine government allowed it to be offered to those willing to take it, but many nurses and doctors are reluctant and have opted to wait for other vaccines.

President Rodrigo Duterte - who has cosied up to Beijing since taking power in 2016 in the hope of securing investment and trade - has defended the Chinese-made vaccines.

Infections have soared in Metro Manila in recent weeks and authorities are using targeted lockdowns in the hope of slowing the spread of the virus.

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