Panicked Filipinos Rush to Vaccination Sites before Metro Manila Lockdown

Aie Balagtas See and J.C. Gotinga
Panicked Filipinos Rush to Vaccination Sites before Metro Manila Lockdown Cyclists pass Manila residents and other Filipinos waiting in line at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Manila on the eve of a two-week hard lockdown in the capital region, Aug. 5, 2021.

Several vaccination sites in Metro Manila were scenes of pandemonium Thursday as thousands of people rushed in hoping to get anti-COVID-19 shots on the eve of a two-week hard lockdown across the Philippine capital region.

Police have set up checkpoints along main roads here in preparation for the so-called enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), which goes into force on Friday and is aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus cases from the highly contagious Delta strain.

Manila Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso described the crowds that swarmed vaccination sites in the city on Thursday morning as “rowdy” and the overall situation as “chaotic.” Filipinos arrived at the sites housed in shopping malls beginning around 2 a.m. 

“We found out that the chaos stemmed from rumors that unvaccinated Filipinos will be barred from leaving their homes,” Domagoso told BenarNews, referring to rumors circulating on social media.

He said large numbers of people traveled in vans from provinces near the Metro Manila area and trampled barricades set up to control crowd movement. Vaccination sites usually inoculate 1,000 to 2,000 per day – but the crowd at a mall in Manila’s Sampaloc district numbered 7,000 to 10,000.

Three other sites also reported an unusual number of people wanting to get vaccinated. Domagoso said the crowd turnout at those sites jumped by about 200 percent to 500 percent.

“People panicked and droves of people went to vaccination centers. There was chaos on unfounded rumors that said those who are not vaccinated will not receive assistance,” said Benhur Abalos, chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority, which will help implement the lockdown. 

“Do not believe fake news,” he said during an event early Thursday to mark the 10 millionth Filipino to be full vaccinated against COVID-19.  

Metropolitan Manila is home to 14 million people, and four outer-lying suburban provinces are also included in the security bubble. 

Under the enhanced community quarantine, only essential business and sectors such as hospitals, supermarkets, delivery services, manufacturing firms and business process outsourcing will be allowed to remain fully operational.

Indoor and outdoor dining will not be allowed and indoor sports venues and tourist attractions will be shut, according to presidential spokesman Harry Roque.

On Thursday, Roque appealed to Filipinos to not make vaccinations “super spreader events,” and called on Filipinos to protect themselves.

“All heads of families should themselves declare a lockdown – no one should leave the house,” he told reporters. “Let me just repeat here. We are only doing this because the Delta variant is more contagious.”

Domagoso, the mayor of Manila, advised citizens to follow quarantine guidelines established by the government.

“Nobody wants another lockdown, but we need to do this to stop the spread of new COVID-19 cases, especially the more dangerous Delta variant,” he said. 

“But I am really hoping this will be the last time for us to be under ECQ,” Domagoso said.

The mayor said Manila would impose a nightly curfew from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., as of Thursday night, while vaccinations would go on despite the lockdown.

“As long as the vaccines are available, we would vaccinate,” he said. “Let’s make this into an opportunity to get ahead of the spread of infections.” 

Filipinos line up before dawn outside a vaccination site in Las Piñas city, Metro Manila, Aug. 5, 2021. (BenarNews)

Unvaccinated Filipinos who lined up in the pre-dawn darkness on Thursday said they wanted to beat the government deadline before Metro Manila closed down.

In Las Piñas city, the crowd started lining up as early as 3 a.m. outside a university vaccination site. 

For market vendor Meme Santa Cruz, 60, this meant leaving her two young grandchildren and three daughters at home while missing work.

She told BenarNews she had heard that those who were not vaccinated would be barred from leaving their homes as of Friday, and if that were to happen, “we will go hungry for two weeks.”

Late last month, President Rodrigo Duterte had ordered police chiefs to detain unvaccinated people inside their homes to prevent the Delta variant from spreading, saying it was more aggressive than the original COVID-19 virus detected in Wuhan, China.

“What will happen to us, to the children? Many of us want to be vaccinated, but we can’t get a schedule so I went here on my own,” said Santa Cruz, who brought biscuits and water to consume while waiting.

A crowd gathers outside a mall in Manila, the site of a vaccination clinic, Aug. 5, 2021. (Reuters)

The government aims to fully vaccinate 70 million of its 110 million people in hopes of achieving herd immunity. So far, slightly more than 10 million people have received all of their shots. 

Jacqueline Ann de Guia, a spokeswoman for the independent Commission on Human Rights, called on local governments on Thursday to ensure public access to vaccines.

She said there needed to be a “well-designed and scientifically informed vaccine distribution plans to ensure strict implementation of health protocols.”

On Thursday, health officials recorded 8,127 coronavirus infections, bringing the nationwide total to more than 1.6 million along with more than 28,000 deaths since the pandemic began.


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