Compulsory vaccination for commuters on public transport in Manila

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — People who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 were banned from riding public transportation in the Philippine capital region on Monday in a desperate move that sparked protests from labor and human rights groups.

The vaccination campaign in the Philippines has been hampered by public hesitation and delays, while the highly contagious omicron variant has fueled a recent spike in infections. From less than a thousand new daily cases during the Christmas holidays, the Ministry of Health counted a record of more than 39,000 on Saturday.

Under the Department for Transport’s ‘no vax, no ride’ policy, commuters who are not fully vaccinated will not be allowed to ride public jeepneys, taxis, buses, ferries and commercial planes at to and from and within Metro Manila, unless they present evidence that they are on urgent errands or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. The restriction will last at least until the end of January and was a consequence of President Rodrigo Duterte’s warning that unvaccinated Filipinos who defy orders to stay home to mitigate community infections could be arrested.

“There are indeed legitimate reasons to aim to vaccinate as many people as possible. However, these reasons should not prevent people from moving freely,” said Butch Olano of Amnesty International in the Philippines. Experts say the legality of the policy could be challenged in the Supreme Court.

Chief Prosecutor Persida Acosta said the measure discriminates against unvaccinated Filipinos in violation of the principle of equal protection of the law and added that no law requires compulsory vaccination.

“This requirement for vaccine cards is not in the law, so it’s unconstitutional,” she said over the phone.

She added that the measure was “really anti-poor” and could unfairly affect those earning low incomes.

It was feared that poor drivers of jeepneys, Manila’s popular public transport icon, could effectively enforce the restriction and check vaccination certificates while driving with passengers constantly boarding and alighting at the rear exit far from his sight. Police have warned that commuters who show false proof of vaccination could be fined or jailed.

The Department for Transportation said the policy was intended to promote public health and prevent public commuter rail systems from being closed again like last year after many of their staff were infected. To “those who say that the ‘no vaccination, no entry’ policy on public transport is anti-poor, draconian or punitive, we think it is more anti-poor and anti-life if we do not impose not interventions that will prevent loss of life from non-vaccination,” he said.

More than 54 million out of an estimated 109 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated in a government campaign that initially struggled with delays and public hesitation.

The Philippines has confirmed more than 3.1 million coronavirus infections, with 52,858 COVID-19 deaths, among the worst in Southeast Asia. As in other countries, the figures are considered an undercount.

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