The Philippines’ enormous capital Metro Manila has ordered yet another lockdown in an attempt to ward off a worrying surge of COVID-19 infections, bringing a somber dose of reality to a generally joyous Christmas season. This time, though, stay-at-home directives only apply to unvaccinated residents and visitors, as the remainder of the city follows merely tighter regulations when out in public.
Metro Manila’s governing council stated on Monday that unvaccinated persons must “limit their mobility” until Jan. 15, when a heightened alert order put on the city is slated to expire. If daily caseloads do not decrease by then, the limits may be reinstated.
Unvaccinated persons must stay at home unless they need to acquire necessities or attend to the doctor, according to the directive. They are not permitted in any restaurants, shopping malls, hotels, or other places of entertainment. They won’t be able to use public transit, and they’ll have to get tested for COVID-19 every two weeks at their own expense in order to work on-site. Violators will face a $1,000 fine or a six-month prison sentence, or both.
Meanwhile, properly vaccinated persons are free to go around, with institutions required to limit their capacity to 30 percent indoors and 50 percent outside. They are only barred from participating in close-contact activities such as lessons and karaoke singing.
“Despite the availability of vaccines, a number of individuals choose 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 wrote in a memo.
Some Filipinos, however, took to social media to express their displeasure with the directive. “Some people are unable to obtain the vaccine owing to medical issues,” remarked Twitter user soniapaula. “If you continue to advocate for obligatory vaccination, this may push [people] to accept it and endanger their lives.” This is blatant prejudice; let the people decide for themselves.”
The city has surpassed its goal of fully vaccinating 9.8 million individuals or almost 70% of its overall population of around 14 million. Some authorities opposed the council’s stay-at-home order for unvaccinated persons, pointing out that even those who have been vaccinated can develop and spread the infection.
“The recent exponential COVID-19 rise in Metro Manila occurred despite the fact that 102 percent of the target population is already immunized.” That is why, according to Congresswoman Arlene Brosas, “this current approach is ignorant to the actual situation on the ground.” She stated that cheap and simple access to coronavirus testing, which may cost up to $100 or more in the Philippines, is critical to reducing transmission.
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Christmas-crazy Filipinos were subjected to little restrictions during the holidays, as the country saw its lowest daily caseload since the epidemic began in early 2020. However, as predicted by local specialists, parties and large extended family gatherings appear to have aided viral transmission. This had increased from 169 daily instances in mid-December to 4,600 by Sunday. In Metro Manila, the focus of the local outbreak, new cases increased from 24 on December 12 to more than 2,600 on December 30.
As of Monday, there were more than a dozen confirmed cases of the highly transmissible Omicron strain on the island country. However, because of the country’s low capability for genome sequencing, officials are unable to establish if Omicron is to blame for the spike.
Extra limitations have also been put on the unvaccinated in various European nations in recent months, where Omicron has caused record surges in COVID-19 infections. Austria placed unvaccinated individuals on lockdown in mid-November, and Germany followed suit in early December, with the government contemplating making COVID-19 immunization mandatory.
Other Western nations have taken less drastic measures against the unvaccinated, such as penalties for those who refuse the vaccination or incentives for those who do.