The Philippines defends “no vax, no ride” in public transport

MANILA: The Philippine government on Thursday defended a controversial ban on unvaccinated people using public transport in the capital Manila where Omicron is fueling a record rise in cases.

The rule, announced by the Department of Transport this week and expected to come into effect on Monday, comes after President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to arrest people not vaccinated against Covid-19 who refused to stay at home.

Passengers will be required to show proof of vaccination before boarding public buses, jeepneys, trains, boats or planes in Metro Manila where infections are soaring, causing widespread disruption to businesses and putting strained the hospitals.

Exceptions will be made for unvaccinated people who have official permission to travel to buy food, get treatment or get bitten.

Only about half of the Filipino population is fully immunized, although the rate in the capital is much higher.

The Department for Transport said the temporary ‘no vaccination, no journey’ policy was designed to protect everyone and avoid an economically damaging shutdown of the public transport system during the latest peak.

“We believe it’s more anti-poor and anti-life if we don’t impose interventions that will prevent loss of life from non-vaccination,” he said.

But rights groups including Amnesty International have criticized the policy.

“The way out of this pandemic is not to impose unacceptable and disproportionate restrictions and penalties on those who are not vaccinated,” said Butch Olano of Amnesty International Philippines.

He warned the rule would unfairly target the poor who cannot work from home and would “further erode trust in government”.

The Philippine Human Rights Commission said earlier that the travel restrictions “effectively restrict the exercise and enjoyment of fundamental rights”.

New cases hit a record 34,021 on Thursday, with just over three million people in the Philippines infected since the start of the pandemic.

The government eased lockdowns in October last year, after the peak of coronavirus infections caused by the Delta variant, in order to revive the struggling economy.

New infections dwindled to a few hundred a day just before Christmas, but rose again as families and friends gathered for the holidays.-AFP

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