Misinformation drives mob to vaccination sites in NCR on eve of lockdown

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 5) — Thousands of people hoping to get vaccinated against COVID-19 rushed to various inoculation sites on Thursday ahead of the hard lockdown, after rumors spread that there would be more restrictions for unvaccinated persons.

Malls used as vaccination sites in Manila City saw an alarming number of people lining up early Thursday and eventually crowding despite the threat of the more transmissible Delta variant.

Police officials said the number of people lining up in four malls designated as vaccination sites initially hovered at around 1,000 to 2,000 per location. The number, however, went up to 3,000 and soared to as high as 10,000 the day before the imposition of the strictest enhanced community quarantine on Friday.

Local officials canceled the vaccination in one mall in Manila due to health and safety concerns when the crowd swelled to more than 10,000, according to the city police.

Authorities said even residents from Cavite, Bulacan, Laguna, and Rizal arrived in the mall in vans to get the shots.

Jhay Basa went to the mall in Manila with his eight family members to get vaccinated after hearing unverified stories that they will not be allowed to go out without proof of vaccination.

What greeted him and his family was complete chaos, he related.

"Ang daming nagsusuntukan doon sa may pila tapos ang daming sumingit sa may pila," he told CNN Philippines. "Dapat di ka pagod, dapat busog ka kapag magbabakuna. 'Yung iba po talaga 6 p.m. pa lang nakapila na."

[Translation: People in line were hitting each other, many were also cutting the line. You should be well rested before your vaccination. Some of those in line were there since 6 p.m. the day before.]

Robert Villanueva, who lined up in a different mall, also described the havoc that ensued outside the vaccination site.

"Parang magkaka-stampede kasi tulakan, siksikan kahit may mga pulis. Sobrang dami talaga," he said.

[Translation: It felt like there will be a stampede. People were pushing and crowding even if there were many police personnel deployed.]

The police said over 100 personnel — around the same number sent out during protests — were deployed at a mall in Santa Cruz, Manila to pacify the swelling crowd.

People also flocked to a hospital and mall in Las Piñas City hoping to get vaccinated. Once the sites opened, they rushed inside to get a slot.

The incidents were triggered by rumors that unvaccinated people cannot go out for essential trips or receive cash assistance from the government during the ECQ period in Metro Manila. This was quickly denied by government officials.

"Huwag kayong maniwala sa fake news. Walang katotohanan [There is no truth to this. Don't believe in fake news]," MMDA Chairman Benhur Abalos said.

The MMDA has asked the National Bureau of Investigation to probe the spread of the “misinformation.”

“To set the record straight, the distribution of ayuda and/or benefits or privileges is not anchored on whether an individual has been inoculated or not,” Abalos added.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara and Health Spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire have assured the public that there will be no distinction between the vaccinated and unvaccinated during the lockdown period. It means restrictions will be the same regardless of a person's vaccination status.

President Rodrigo Duterte on July 29 warned unvaccinated persons to avoid going out, directing local authorities to escort the "spreaders" back to their homes. The country's vaccine supply, however, remains unstable, leaving millions of people outside of the priority sectors unvaccinated.

Vaccination centers, whether located in a mall or a separate site, are under the jurisdiction of the local government unit. CNN Philippines has requested comment from the management of the malls.

CNN Philippines' Lara Tan and Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.