Duterte considering mandatory vaccination anew due to Omicron variant

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 29) — President Rodrigo Duterte again floated the possibility of compelling Filipinos to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in light of the newly detected Omicron coronavirus variant.

In a meeting with Cabinet officials and health experts on Monday, Duterte reiterated the government can invoke its police power to require the public to get their anti-coronavirus shots, in order to protect the general population.

"Whether we like it or not, itong p**** Omicron na 'to, darating talaga [the Omicron variant will enter the country]," the President said. "The question is if this Omicron (is) really deadlier...and whether or not we have to invoke the police powers of the State to compel obedience."

READ: Duque: Omicron to reach PH, only a matter of when

Duterte added he "may agree" with the national COVID-19 task force if it recommends mandatory vaccination, stressing such a move would be "for public health."

Meanwhile, the head of the Department of the Interior and Local Government said they are in favor of implementing stricter rules on the local level, which would limit the benefits enjoyed by unvaccinated people.

"Hindi po naman natin ima-mandatory, pero [We will not make it mandatory, but] at least, we'll make it harder for them to live while there is a pandemic," DILG Secretary Eduardo Año said. He noted the Philippines is relatively "lenient" compared to other nations when it comes to restrictions imposed on the unvaccinated.

Año also said that under the Local Government Code, local chief executives — in the name of protecting their constituents — may opt to limit the mobility of those not yet immunized. He added the issuance of such an order "is considered legal unless stopped by the court."

"We have already LGUs who are announcing, declaring mandatory (vaccination), and actually, we are encouraging them," he also said. "Number one is (Narvacan) Mayor Chavit Singson. Nag-announce na po siya na sa bayan niya hindi na welcome ang mga unvaccinated [He already announced that in his town, the unvaccinated aren't welcome.]

According to officials, no case of the Omicron variant has been detected in the country yet.

Infectious diseases expert Dr. Edsel Salvaña, who was also present during the meeting, said the new variant is possibly more transmissible than the feared Delta, although further assessment is needed. Meanwhile, he said there are so far no early indications that the Omicron is deadlier, or that people infected with it experience a more severe form of COVID-19.

"In fact, the early findings are mukhang baka mas mild [it's probably milder]...although we are still watching for additional data. The problem is this may be less susceptible to our vaccines in preventing infection," he said.

But he was quick to note this only likely means reduced efficacy, as the currently available vaccines in the country are still expected to offer a level of protection against severe COVID-19.