Duterte raises reward for coronavirus vaccine discovery to P50 million

President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday, April 24, said that he will now give P50 million to Filipino scientists who can develop a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The amount is 5 times more than the reward he offered earlier this week.

"I'm raising the bounty to P50 million. I will give P50 million because it's a collegial thing," Duterte said in a mix of English and Filipino in a taped television address.

The President added that scientists can ask for additional research funding from the government through Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, if needed.

"What matters to me is the dedication and the load of work that they are performing. So kung kailangan nilang additional funding, all they have to do is magsabi lang sa 'yo (Duque). I'd be glad, kung di naman masyado malaki dahil ipit tayo sa pera, I will readily give it to them," Duterte said.

(If they need additional funding, all they have to do is to ask Duque. I'd be glad, if it's not too much, because we lack cash, I will readily give it to them.)

Duterte initially offered a P10-million reward and a grant to the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital to develop the vaccine.

The President said on Friday that any relaxation of the government's coronavirus measures would be dependent on the availability of the vaccine.

"Kasi ang tao ang interesado ninyo na gusto 'nyo lumabas sa bunganga ko, 'Kailan ba talaga ito matatapos?' Ang COVID hindi matatapos 'yan. It will yield and it will stay until kingdom come. Pero kung may bakuna na, baka sakaling mauna tayo, ma-emboldened 'yung mga scientists natin to work overtime to come up with a vaccine. COVID equals vaccine. Period," Duterte said.

(People are more interested that this come out of my mouth, "When will this end?" This COVID-19 will not end. It will yield and it will stay until kingdom come. But if there's an available vaccine, if we develop it first, our scientists perhaps will be emboldened to work overtime to come up with a vaccine. COVID equals vaccine. Period.)

Last month, CNN Philippines reported that the Department of Science and Technology was contacting 4 foreign partners for possible clinical trials of a coronavirus vaccine or drug. On April 15, Malacañang said that the Philippines was ready to participate in the clinical trial of Japanese anti-flu drug Avigan as possible treatment for coronavirus.

Big pharmaceutical companies as well as private foundations abroad are racing to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. In the United Kingdom, where nearly 19,000 people have died of the disease, the trial of a potential vaccine on humans began this week. Experts have said that a vaccine may not be available in at least a year. (READ: What you need to know: Coronavirus cures, vaccines being tested)

Malacañang announced on Friday that Metro Manila and other "high-risk" provinces in Luzon will remain under total lockdown until May 15. All the other areas not mentioned will remain under a general community quarantine, which Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said would be the "new normal."

Some areas in the Visayas and Mindanao, including Cebu City and Davao City, will also be on lockdown until May 15, but this will be rechecked and may change before April 30.

As of Thursday afternoon, April 23, the Philippines has 6,981 coronavirus cases, including 462 deaths. At least 722 patients have already recovered from the disease, but cases have been increasing at a daily average of 200 over the past two weeks.

The President urged the public to be patient in waiting for the lifting of the lockdown.

"One thing I can assure you that we are just waiting for the right time. Tiisin muna natin (Let's endure it for the meantime). Ako nakikiusap sa inyo (I'm appealing to you) because we are trying to limit the contamination," Duterte said. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.

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