(Al Jazeera) The Philippines has reported at least 21,819 new COVID-19 infections, raising the country’s positivity rate to another all-time high of 40 percent out of 70,049 tests conducted, as President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the arrest of unvaccinated people who will violate stay-at-home orders aimed at curbing “galloping” cases driven by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
With the latest number of infections on Friday, the country hits a record-high positivity rate for the third straight day, while the total caseload since the pandemic approaches three million.
On Saturday, the health department also reported another 26,458 new cases, with a positivity rate of 43.7 percent – the fourth consecutive day that a new record high was set.
The more than 43 percent positivity rate in the country is well above the World Health Organization’s five percent positivity threshold.
There are now 102,017 active cases officially recorded in the country as of Saturday. Meanwhile, 265 new fatalities were reported bringing the official death toll to 52,135, although the actual number of deaths could be higher.
The majority of the cases reported were from the capital, Manila, and its surrounding cities and suburbs, and 99 percent of the new cases were recorded between December 26 to January 8.
Health officials and independent experts have already warned that the infections were projected to increase further in the coming days and would peak by the end of the month.
The sudden rise in cases had prompted Duterte to order on Thursday the arrest of unvaccinated people who violate stay-at-home orders, raising questions about the legality of the order.
“Because it’s a national emergency, it is my position that we can restrain” people who have not got their shots, Duterte said in a pre-recorded message.
“I am now giving orders to the [village chiefs] to look for those persons who are not vaccinated and just request them or order them, if you may, to stay put.”
“And if he refuses and goes out of the house and goes around in the community or maybe everywhere, he can be restrained. If he refuses then the [official] is empowered to arrest the recalcitrant persons,” he added.
Coronavirus vaccinations are voluntary in the nation of 110 million people, and less than half the population have so far completed their jabs.
Duterte said he was “appalled” at the large numbers of Filipinos yet to be vaccinated.
“If you don’t get a jab you put everybody in jeopardy,” he said, with the virus “galloping in our community, in our country and in the world”.
Duterte had previously threatened to arrest those who violated the country’s lockdown measures, and warned those who refused to get vaccinated that they will go to jail amid the Delta variant last year.
The government loosened lockdowns in October last year, after coronavirus infections driven by the Delta variant peaked, in order to revive the battered economy.
New infections dwindled to a few hundred per day just before Christmas, but ramped up again as families and friends got together for the holidays.
Health experts say the new cases are driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Under the new tighter restrictions, in place until mid-January, unvaccinated residents have to stay at home unless buying essentials or exercising.
Restaurants, parks, churches and beauty salons will operate at lower capacity, while in-person classes and contact sports are suspended.