Revelers gaze at fireworks as they welcome the new year on January 1, 2022 at a business district in Metro Manila. Photo: Geo
In a sobering dose of reality cutting a relatively festive holiday season, the Philippines’ sprawling capital Metro Manila has announced yet another lockdown in an attempt to stave off a frightening spike in COVID-19 infections. This time, though, stay-at-home orders only apply to unvaccinated residents and travelers, as the rest of the metropolis carries on with only stricter protocols when in public.
On Monday, Metro Manila’s governing council announced it is requiring unvaccinated people to “regulate their mobility” at least until Jan. 15, when a heightened alert order imposed on the metropolis is set to lapse. The restrictions may be reimposed if daily caseloads do not ease by then.
Under the order, unvaccinated people must stay at home except to buy essential goods or for medical purposes. They are banned from all restaurants, malls, hotels and all other leisure establishments. They can’t take public transportation, and they’ll have to be tested for COVID-19 every two weeks—at their own expense—to be allowed at on-site jobs. Violators will be fined up to $1,000 or jailed for up to six months, or both.
Meanwhile, fully vaccinated people may move about freely, with the onus on establishments to limit their capacities to just 30 percent when indoors and 50 percent when outdoors. Only close-contact activities such as classes and karaoke singing are prohibited for them.
“Despite the availability of vaccines, there is a number of individuals who adamantly opt not to be vaccinated and thus become more susceptible to severe cases of COVID-19 infection, which will in turn require hospital care, thereby unduly burdening the health care system to the detriment of public health,” the council said in a memo.
Some Filipinos, however, vented their opposition to the order on social media. “There are some individuals who can’t receive the vaccine [due to] certain medical conditions,” said Twitter user soniapaula. “If you still push for mandatory vaccination, this might push [people] to receive it and put their lives in danger. This is a pure act of discrimination, let people decide for themselves.”
The metropolis has exceeded its target of fully vaccinating some 9.8 million people, or about 70 percent of its total population of around 14 million. Some officials criticized the council’s stay-at-home order for unvaccinated people, noting that even vaccinated people can contract and transmit the virus.
“The recent exponential COVID-19 surge in Metro Manila happened even when 102 percent of the target population is already vaccinated. That is why this latest policy is blind to the actual situation on the ground,” said congresswoman Arlene Brosas. She argued that free and easy access to coronavirus testing, which can cost up to $100 or more in the Philippines, remains the key to curbing transmission.
Christmas-crazy Filipinos enjoyed few restrictions over the holidays as the country saw its lowest daily caseloads since the pandemic began in early 2020. But, as forecast by local experts, parties and big extended family gatherings appear to have fuelled transmissions of the virus. From as low as 169 daily cases in mid-December, this had surged to 4,600 by Sunday. In Metro Manila, the local outbreak’s epicenter, new cases went from as low as 24 on Dec. 12 to more than 2,600 on Dec. 30.
The highly transmissible Omicron variant has reached the island nation, with over a dozen confirmed cases as of Monday. But with the country’s limited capacity for genome sequencing, officials are unable to precisely say whether Omicron is driving the surge.
Extra restrictions placed upon the unvaccinated have also been imposed in some European countries in recent months, where Omicron has fuelled unprecedented spikes in COVID-19 cases. Austria put its unvaccinated citizens on lockdown in mid-November, and Germany followed suit in early December, with the government considering plans to make vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory.
Other Western countries have taken less extreme measures against the unvaccinated, such as fines for those who refuse the jab or incentives for those who take it.
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