As covid cases rise sharply in the Philippines, president Rodrigo Duterte has taken a hardline stance against the unvaccinated. In a pre-recorded national address on Thursday (Jan. 6), Duterte told neighborhood officials to rout out and, if necessary, restrain or arrest unvaccinated people caught outside their homes.
“I am now giving orders to the barangay captains,”—the elected leaders of villages and urban neighborhoods—”to look for those persons who are not vaccinated and just request them or order them, if you may, to stay put,” Duterte said. “And if he refuses and goes out of the house and goes around in the community or maybe everywhere, he can be restrained. If he refuses then the captain is empowered to arrest the recalcitrant persons.”
Duterte said he was “appalled” at the number of Filipinos who continue to be unvaccinated, and added that, “If you don’t get a jab you put everybody in jeopardy.”
According to the Johns Hopkins vaccine tracker, 51 million Filipinos, about half of the country, are fully vaccinated. In November, following the announcement of omicron as a variant of concern, the Philippines responded with an ambitious vaccination drive, inoculating millions in the span of a few days. Despite this, vaccine hesitancy, driven in part by misinformation about its effectiveness, has meant millions more remain unvaccinated.
Duterte’s nationwide order follows localized efforts to contain the spread of the omicron wave. On Jan. 3, Manila, the capital, was put on alert level three, which limits capacity at indoor and outdoor establishments—for the vaccinated. For the unvaccinated, which includes those who have only received one shot, the city imposed a stricter lockdown, prohibiting them from leaving their homes except for essential activities, and barring them from establishments and public transport.
The official number of cases in the Philippines hit 17,220 on Thursday (Jan. 6), the highest number since Sept. 24, according to the Philippine Department of Health, with more than one out of three tests returning positive for covid. Of the active covid cases, 91% were classified as mild or asymptomatic.
Duterte is known for brutal enforcement of Philippine laws and ordinances. His flagship anti-drug campaign resulted in tens of thousands of alleged drug users and dealers being killed by police without due process.
His hardening stance toward the unvaccinated comes as other leaders also express impatience with those who are not yet vaccinated, with French president Emmanuel Macron vowing to make it increasingly harder for the unvaccinated to access public spaces and social activities.