Image Credit: Reuters

Manila: Beijing's top diplomat pledged Saturday to donate half a million coronavirus vaccine shots to the Philippines, Manila officials said.

President Rodrigo Duterte's administration is scrambling to lock in supplies of COVID-19 vaccines for the country's 110 million people, after being criticised for being too slow off the mark in the global race to procure the drugs.

Among other deals, the Philippines has already agreed to buy 25 million doses of Chinese company Sinovac's Coronavac.

It is not clear which vaccine China will donate, and whether the donation is part of that earlier deal; the Chinese embassy in Manila did not respond to AFP's request for comment.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his counterpart of the intended donation when he was in Manila on Saturday, the Philippines foreign ministry said.

The news follows similar announcements from other countries in the region earlier this week - Cambodia said it would receive one million free doses from Beijing on Friday, after Myanmar was set to get 300,000.

Duterte has actively sought closer ties with Beijing since taking power in 2016, and has defended Chinese vaccines in the face of widespread misgivings over their effectiveness.

Nearly half a million people have been infected with the virus in the Philippines, with almost 10,000 fatalities.

Health officials have warned of a possible spike in cases following the Christmas holidays, religious parades and a confirmed case of the more infectious strain first identified in Britain.