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Philippine president’s idea for vaccine incentive: Avoid arrest

Pedicab driver being given COVID-19 shot
A pedicab driver is inoculated with China’s Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine in Manila on Tuesday.
(Aaron Favila / Associated Press)

The Philippine president has threatened to order the arrest of residents who refuse COVID-19 vaccinations and told them to leave the country if they do not cooperate with the efforts to contain the pandemic.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who is known for his public outbursts and brash rhetoric, said in televised remarks Monday night that he has become exasperated with people who refuse to get immunized and then help spread the coronavirus.

“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.

“If you will not agree to be vaccinated, leave the Philippines. Go to India if you want, or somewhere, to America,” he said, adding he would order village leaders to compile a list of defiant residents.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra acknowledged Tuesday that there was no law criminalizing refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

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“I believe that the president merely used strong words to drive home the need for us to get vaccinated and reach herd immunity as soon as possible,” Guevarra said.

Hard-won access to family planning has diminished during the pandemic, with a resulting surge in births expected to strain healthcare resources.

A human rights lawyer, Edre Olalia, raised concerns over Duterte’s threat, saying the president could not order the arrest of anybody who has not clearly committed any crime.

Duterte and his administration have faced criticism over a vaccination drive beset with supply problems and public hesitancy. After repeated delays, vaccinations started in March.

Duterte blamed the problems on wealthy Western countries cornering vaccines for their own citizens, leaving poorer countries like the Philippines behind. Some officials said the bigger problem was inadequate vaccine supply more than public hesitancy.

Duterte walked back on an earlier remark that appeared to limit to hospitals a requirement that people wear plastic face shields over their masks as an added safeguard. After experts briefed him on the threat of more contagious coronavirus variants, Duterte declared it mandatory for the general public to continue wearing face shields indoors and outdoors.

The Philippines is a COVID-19 hotspot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million cases and at least 23,749 deaths.


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