The Philippines’ so called “no vax, no ride” policy, which bans people who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 from riding public transport in the country’s capital region, has come into effect – a move that has sparked protests from labour and human rights groups.
The restriction, which will last until at least the end of January, was an offshoot of President Rodrigo Duterte’s warning that unvaccinated Filipinos who defy orders to stay at home to ease community infections could face arrest.
Under the Department of Transportation’s policy, commuters who are not fully vaccinated are banned from public jeepneys (Manila’s popular public transport icon), taxis, buses, sea ferries and commercial planes to and from and within Metropolitan Manila from Monday – unless they show proof that they are on urgent errands or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
More than 54 million of about 109 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in a government campaign that has been dogged by delays and public hesitancy.
The Philippines has confirmed more than 3.1 million coronavirus infections, with 52,858 COVID-19 deaths, among the worst in Southeast Asia. Like in other nations, the figures are thought to be an undercount, while the highly contagious Omicron variant has contributed to a recent spike in infections.
On Saturday, the Department of Health registered a record of more than 39,000 daily cases – up from the fewer than 1,000 new daily infected recorded during the Christmas holidays.
Commenting on the government’s new policy, Butch Olano of Amnesty International in the Philippines said “there are indeed legitimate reasons for aiming to vaccinate as many people as possible” against COVID-19.
“However, these reasons should not prevent people from freedom of movement,” he added.
Experts say the policy’s legality could be questioned before the Supreme Court.
There were concerns how poor drivers of jeepneys could efficiently enforce the restriction and check vaccination certificates while driving with passengers constantly getting on and off at the back exit away from their view.
Police warned commuters who show fake proofs of vaccination could be fined or jailed.
The Department of Transportation said the policy aims to foster public health and prevent public commuter train systems from being shut down again like last year after many of their personnel got infected.
To “those saying that the ‘no vaccination, no ride-entry’ policy in public transport is anti-poor, draconian or punitive, we believe that it is more anti-poor and anti-life if we will not impose interventions that will prevent loss of life due to non-vaccinations,” it said.