Philippine government officials fear that the presence of the delta variant will turn vaccination drives in the capital city of Manila into super-spreader events.
Many vaccination sites across the Metro Manila region and nearby provinces on Thursday, Aug. 5, grappled with an unprecedented turnout of people desperate to receive a dose of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine a day before the start of hard lockdown.
“Let us not make vaccination a super-spreader ,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told a media briefing. “It should save lives, not endanger lives.”
Metro Manila, which spans 16 cities, is under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) for two weeks beginning Aug. 6. The ECQ imposes the strictest lockdown measures in the Philippines.
In some areas, the chaos in vaccination sites resulted in massive failure to observe minimum health protocols like social distancing. In Manila, police estimated that the turnout on early Thursday morning could go as high as 22,000 across four malls operating as vaccination sites.
COVID vaccinations suspended due to huge turnout
Vaccinations were suspended at SM San Lazaro mall in Manila and at Las Pinas Doctors Hospital and SM Southmall in Las Piñas due to the influx of people. Disgruntled residents did not hide their frustration over the disorderly process.
Ofelia Gonzales, 36, a Manila food vendor, missed the cut-off for a vaccine despite falling in line since Wednesday night, Aug. 4. “If they keep extending the lockdown, who will provide meals if we can’t get out,” she said.
Manila officials were surprised by the unusually high turnout in malls, with SM San Lazaro having as many as 10,000 people before it halted operations. Julius Leonen, the Public Information Officer of Manila, said that the regular turnout would only be around 1,000 to 2,000.
“They came in many groups, they came in many vans,” Leonen said. “Many of those who rushed to the sites did not even know that they had to present a QR code before they become eligible for vaccination in Metro Manila.”
That’s not the first time Manila’s vaccination system raised some eyebrows. On previous occasions, many had to fall in line for hours as early as dawn as the city does not provide a specific time schedule for people.
Long lines were also witnessed at vaccination sites in cities like Paranaque, Muntinlupa and Antipolo a day before the start of lockdown.
Maricel Bacay, a 59-year-old housewife, waited outside a mall in Antipolo starting 3 a.m. to try to get a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. “There was news that you can’t get inside the malls or supermarket if you’re not vaccinated,” Bacay said. (Related: Australian state mulls banning unvaccinated people from “high-risk” venues.)
Filipinos rush to get vaccinated for fear of not getting assistance during lockdown
Some local government units say the huge crowds stemmed from false information that unvaccinated people won’t qualify for financial assistance from the government or won’t be allowed to leave their homes at all.
Officials disproved the circulating false information that the government imposed additional COVID-19 restrictions, including disallowing unvaccinated people from going out and excluding them in the cash aid during the ECQ.
Roque said the public should not believe what he called “fake news,” explaining that the government could not impose such limitations at this point since the country has yet to vaccinate at least 50 percent of the population against COVID-19. In other words, the fake news Roque was referring to may become real at some point.
At least for now, vaccinated and unvaccinated residents of areas placed under ECQ are qualified to avail of financial assistance. “We have not imposed restrictions on those who are still unvaccinated. What we are asking for, now that the vaccines are already here, is for them to get it,” Roque said.
With over 1.6 million COVID-19 cases and more than 28,000 deaths, the Philippines has the second-worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. There are just 10.3 million fully vaccinated Filipinos so far, representing 16.3 percent of the country’s 63 million adult population.
Philippine president threatens to arrest people who refuse COVID-19 vaccine
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to arrest people who do not get a COVID-19 vaccine. Known for his public outbursts and brash rhetoric, Duterte said in televised remarks that he has become exasperated with people refusing to get immunized amid a health crisis.
“Don’t get me wrong. There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I’ll have you arrested and I’ll inject the vaccine in your butt,” Duterte said in June. “If you will not agree to be vaccinated, leave the Philippines. Go to India if you want or somewhere, to America.” (Related: Shock experiment: Americans sign petition to ARREST and JAIL unvaccinated.)
In July, Duterte ordered village chiefs to prevent those in their communities who refuse to be vaccinated from leaving home.
“I am telling you, don’t leave your homes. If you go out, I will tell the police to escort you back to your house because you are a walking spreader,” Duterte said. “If you don’t want to help the country by getting vaccinated, then better stay in your homes.”
Roque said only authorized people – including those buying essential goods, traveling for medical reasons and frontline workers – would be allowed to go outside of their homes during the lockdown. He added that people who are scheduled to get vaccinated against COVID-19 during the ECQ period would also be allowed to go out.
Laguna, Iloilo City and Cagayan de Oro City were also placed under ECQ, albeit only for 10 days starting Aug. 6.
Cavite, Lucena City, Rizal and the rest of Iloilo province would be under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) while Batangas and Quezon would be under general community quarantine (GCQ) with heightened restrictions.
Follow Immunization.news for more news and information related to coronavirus vaccines.