The Philippine government announced on Wednesday a “no vaccination, no ride” policy barring unvaccinated people from using public transport in the capital Manila and surrounding regions.

The ban came as the southeast Asian nation recorded a new surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly transmissible omicron variant. On Wednesday alone, the Philippines reported 32,000 new daily infections — its second highest since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

So far, only around 53.4 million of the country’s 110 million population have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

An order published by Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said the new policy that would be in place from Jan. 17 in the National Capital Region — home to 13 million Filipinos — covered “all domestic travel to, from, and within NCR via public transportation by land, rail, sea, and air.”

Public transport operators are allowed to issue tickets only to fully vaccinated passengers who present proof of their identification and vaccination status. Those who cannot be vaccinated due to medical conditions and individuals assigned by their household to buy essential goods outside their area of residence are exempted from the order.

The order immediately drew criticism from opposition politicians, transport organizations, and rights groups.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers told Arab News that the rules had “no legal basis.”

The union’s president, Edre Olalia, said: “It seems to be too drastic yet simplistic and not absolutely necessary. There are other regulatory measures that can be resorted to even as we support and encourage vaccination as just one of our health solutions.”

In a tweet, opposition leader, Renato Reyes, said the policy was “illegal and absurd,” adding that “half the population will not be allowed to move now. How about people who are going to their vaccination sites? They are expected to walk?”

Labor leader and presidential candidate, Leody de Guzman, said in a statement that the policy “violates the basic rights of the people.”

In response, Transportation Undersecretary Artemio Tuazon told reporters the order did not infringe on the constitution.

He said: “In our Bill of Rights, what is protected is the right of travel,” adding that people could use their own cars to travel.

“We are not limiting the travel of commuters, what we are limiting is the use of public transport.”

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