MANILA — The National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 said on Friday it would investigate an alleged move to "sabotage" the vaccination drive, which fueled chaos as thousands flocked to inoculation sites in Metro Manila this week.
Photos on social media on Thursday showed people jostling each other to be the first in line at vaccination centers, prompting police intervention to enforce social distancing rules.
Some individuals deliberately spread wrong information that people would not get cash aid from the government during the 2-week lockdown of Metro Manila if they are not vaccinated, said NTF deputy chief implementer Vince Dizon.
"Meron po tayong natatanggap na unverified reports na kailangan imbestigahan po natin, na meron daw pong mga masasamang elemento na nanadyang magbotahe ng mga vaccination site, lalo na sa mga malls sa Las Piñas, Antipolo, Maynila at iba pang lugar," he said in a televised public briefing.
(We received unverified reports that need to be investigated, which said bad elements sabotaged vaccination sites, especially those located at malls in Las Piñas, Antipolo, Manila, and other areas.)
"Ito po ay iimbestigahan ng national task force sa pamumuno ni Secretary [Carlito] Galvez, sa tulong ng DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government)," added the official.
Movement restrictions were reimposed across Metro Manila, an urban sprawl of 16 cities that is home to 13 million people, from Aug. 6 to 20 to try slow the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.
The nearby province of Laguna, and the cities of Iloilo and Cagayan de Oro in the central and southern Philippines, respectively, will also be placed on lockdown, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement, as health facilities are overwhelmed.
Maricel Bacay, a 59-year-old homemaker, queued outside a mall in Antipolo City in Rizal, one of those neighboring provinces, at 3 AM Thursday to try beat anticipated crowds.
"There was news that you can't get inside the malls or supermarket if you're not vaccinated," Bacay told Reuters.
Ofelia Gonzales, 36, a Manila food vendor, missed the cut-off for a vaccine despite queuing since Wednesday night.
"If they keep extending the lockdown, who will provide meals if we can't get out," she said.
With around 1.6 million COVID-19 cases and more than 28,000 deaths, the Philippines has the second-worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.
Just 10.3 million people have been fully vaccinated. The government target is to immunize up to 70 million people this year.
President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to arrest people who do not get a vaccine. Last month, he ordered village chiefs to prevent those in their communities who refuse to be vaccinated from leaving home.
Roque said authorized people, including those buying essential goods, travelling for medical reasons and frontline workers, would be allowed unrestricted movement under the lockdown, even if unvaccinated.
"Let us not make vaccination a superspreader," Roque told a media briefing. "It should save lives, not endanger lives."
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters
Video courtesy of PTV