Philippine capital in new lockdown as thousands rush for vaccine

More than 24 million people in Metro Manila and surrounding provinces are in varying levels of lockdown as the Delta variant spreads.

Movement restrictions were reimposed just after midnight across Metro Manila, an urban sprawl of 16 cities that is home to 13 million people [Ted Aljibe/AFP]

The Philippine capital and several nearby provinces have headed back into a strict lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of the Delta variant, just hours after people scrambled desperately for vaccines at several COVID-19 vaccination sites raising concerns about a stampede.

The movement restrictions were reimposed just after midnight (16:00 GMT) across Metro Manila on Friday, an urban sprawl of 16 cities that is home to 13 million people.

The nearby province of Laguna, which has a population of 3.3 million, was also included in the order, as well as the cities of Iloilo and Cagayan de Oro in the central and southern Philippines, respectively, according to presidential spokesman Harry Roque.

Metro Manila’s neighbouring provinces of Cavite and Rizal, which have a combined population of about 7.6 million, were also placed in a less restricted lockdown. But many who live in the two provinces work in the nation’s capital and will likely be affected by the developments in Metro Manila.

On the eve of the lockdown, Roque pushed back angrily against the criticism of the government’s COVID-19 response, after thousands of people flocked to several vaccination centres in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, causing chaos and a near-stampede.

“I think there are people who are trying to spread fake news. They have nothing better to do with their lives. I don’t know why they’re not being infected with COVID yet,” he said in Tagalog.

People descended on the centres after reports began circulating that the government would not extend financial aid to unvaccinated individuals. Government spokesmen later said the reports were fake and threatened to charge people spreading the information.

But last week, President Rodrigo Duterte himself said during his regular televised address that people who are unvaccinated should be barred from leaving their homes. He has also threatened unvaccinated individuals with prison.

Without naming the president, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said on Friday that the chaos should be blamed on “somebody”, who issued several threats against unvaccinated individuals, generating public fear.

“The vaccines should have arrived a long time ago,” he said in Tagalog. “Now, people are scared because of remarks that they will be jailed, they will not be given aid, they will not be allowed to go outside.”

Mad rush

The chaos on Thursday forced city officials to cancel vaccination in some sites, leaving many disappointed.

Maricel Bacay, a 59-year-old homemaker, was queueing outside a mall in Antipolo city in Rizal province neighbouring the capital at 3am (19:00 GMT) on Thursday to try and beat the anticipated crowds.

“There was news that you can’t get inside the malls or supermarket if you’re not vaccinated,” Bacay told the Reuters news agency.

Photos on social media showed people jostling each other to be the first in line, prompting police intervention as they tried to enforce social-distancing rules.

Filipinos waiting to be vaccinated against COVID-19 gather outside a mall in Manila on Thursday, a day before stricter lockdown measures are reimplemented in the Philippine capital [Lisa Marie David/Reuters]

Ofelia Gonzales, 36, a Manila food vendor, missed the cut-off time for a vaccine appointment despite queueing since Wednesday night.

“If they keep extending the lockdown, who will provide meals if we can’t get out,” she said.

With approximately 1.62 million COVID-19 cases and more than 28,000 deaths, the Philippines has the second-worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.

Just 10.3 million people, or 9.3 percent of the Philippines’ 110 million population, have been fully vaccinated. The government’s target is to immunise up to 70 million people this year, but with the current pace of vaccination, the goal of reaching herd immunity will not be achieved until next year.

The government says that the vaccination programme will continue during the lockdown.

On Friday, the government reported that it set a new daily record of 710,482 coronavirus shots administered as of Thursday.

Despite the latest lockdown in Metro Manila, Roque also said authorised people, including those buying essential goods, travelling for medical reasons and front-line workers, would be allowed unrestricted movement, even if unvaccinated.

But with many residents in Metro Manila out of work during the lockdown, many complain that they do not have sufficient means to buy food and other essential items to sustain them over the next two weeks.

Roque earlier said that low-income families and individuals would be receiving an equivalent of $20 to $80 during the lockdown but it is unclear where the government will source the funds for the additional aid.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies