People in the Philippines who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 could be jailed if they leave their homes for non-essential purposes.
President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the arrest of unvaccinated people who violate stay-at-home rules as the country grapples with "galloping" Covid-19 infections.
The Philippines reported at least 21,819 new cases from 70,049 tests on Friday. Delta is still the dominant Covid-19 variant, but there are fears Omicron will spread across the country of 109 million people within weeks.
Duterte said: "I'm now giving orders to the barangay [district] captain to look for those persons who are not vaccinated and just would request them or order them, if you may, to stay put."
He said local officials could "arrest recalcitrant persons" who refuse to follow the new rules, with civilians drafted in to help enforce the rules.
"The barangay captain can also mobilise civilians and adopt them, give them the task officially, probably written and that converts their status from being a civilian … They now become agents of a person in authority," Duterte said, as he called the outbreak a "national emergency".
Rodrigo Duterte holds up a vial of Sinovac Biotech's Covid-19 vaccines as he witnesses the arrival of a shipment of the vaccines at Ninoy Aquino International Airport on February 28, 2021 in Manila, Philippines. Photo / Getty Images
Last year, Duterte threatened people who refuse to get vaccinated with jail or an injection of Ivermectin, an anti-parasite drug widely used to treat animals.
However, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said arresting unvaccinated individuals who would refuse to stay home would be a "last resort".
"The President is merely exercising his authority as chief executive under the public health emergency. He was very clear in his directive that an arrest will only be a last resort," a spokesman for the DILG said in a statement.
The President's directive was met with backlash from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, with president Burt Estrada calling the move "unconstitutional," arguing there is no law limiting the right to travel.
A spokesman for the Commission on Human Rights said in a statement: "Any arrest made on these grounds may be illegal, thus, violative of the Constitution and our guaranteed human rights."
Coronavirus vaccinations are voluntary in the Philippines. Less than half the population is fully vaccinated.
Duterte described the vaccination rate as "appalling".
"If you don't get a jab you put everybody in jeopardy," he said, noting the virus was "galloping in our community, in our country and in the world".