Venezuela receives 1.3 million COVID-19 vaccines from China: Maduro

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said 1.3 million vaccines from China had arrived in the South American country, which is poised to start a vaccination campaign in the coming days.

The announcement comes as Venezuela, mired in an economic crisis, experiences a second wave of COVID-19 cases amid a weak healthcare system and slow vaccination rollout.

"One million 300 thousand new vaccines have arrived for Venezuelans direct from China, one million 300 thousand, the arrival of vaccines is climbing," said the president in a live broadcast on state TV Sunday evening.

"With all these vaccines, a plan has already been prepared that starts tomorrow, to accelerate vaccination," he added.

In Venezuela, with a population of about 30 million, 1.4 million vaccines have already arrived from Russia and China, according to information from the Ministry of Health.

Maduro said earlier this month Venezuela was aiming for 70% of its population to be vaccinated by August, when single-dose Russian Sputnik Light vaccines were due to arrive. There has been no announcement about whether or not some of those doses have already arrived.

"What they call the 'new vaccination phase' is what should be happening in a week from now until the end of the year (one million weekly vaccinations) to reach the necessary goal," Julio Castro, an infectious diseases expert who advises part of the opposition on health issues, wrote on Twitter.

The government announced in April that it had made a first payment to the COVAX system, which facilitates vaccine access to poor nations. It has rejected doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine, citing side effects.

Officials later confirmed a second payment, but there is still no official statement on the progress of the payment and arrival of the doses.

Venezuela has registered 222,052 cases of COVID-19 and 2,499 deaths. Medical unions and institutions argue that the actual numbers are likely higher due to underreporting and low testing rates.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Writing by Sarah Kinosian; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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