Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to arrest those who refuse Covid-19 vaccines, as the nation grapples with one of Asia’s worst outbreaks.
The Philippines has recorded 1.3 million cases and over 23,000 deaths. It has also recorded 17 cases of the delta variant that has been rampaging across India, reports local website Rappler.
“If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I’ll have you arrested then I’ll inject a vaccine into your buttocks,” said Duterte in a televised address on Monday. “Get vaccinated, or I’ll jail you in a cell.”
He said those who do not want the vaccine should leave the Philippines and “go to India if you want, or America, or somewhere. But for as long as you are here and you are a human being and can carry the virus, you should get vaccinated”.
He threatened to keep a record of people refusing vaccinations and inoculate them with Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug for animals that is rumoured to help treat Covid-19 but is not approved, reported The Philippine Star.
However, he did not provide any legal basis for his orders. Justice Secretary Menardo Gueverra told The Philippine Star’s Kristine Patag that there is no law in the country yet that criminalises refusing to take the Covid-19 vaccine.
Gueverra added that he believed Duterte “merely used strong words to drive home the need for us to get vaccinated and reach herd immunity as soon as possible”.
If his new arrest order is realised, it will be the harshest measure the Philippines has introduced to counter the pandemic so far.
“I will think it over very hard, legally of course, in pursuance of a policy of crisis, this health issue,” said Duterte during the televised speech, according to Rappler.
A spokesperson from his office said on Tuesday that the government would not implement the orders until Congress passes a law that allows such arrests, reported the Philippine news site.
Duterte has previously said he would not obey court rulings regarding his handling of the pandemic after being questioned by lawyers from the province of Cebu.
The Philippines vaccine rollout has been relatively slow. As of Sunday, under 6% of its 110 million population has received one dose.
An early May survey by social research organization Social Weather Stations found that only one third of Filipinos were willing to get vaccinated, with the rest citing fears over side effects and that the vaccines are unsafe.
“Don’t get me wrong, there is a crisis in this country,” said Duterte. “I’m just exasperated by Filipinos not heeding the government.”