MANILA (REUTERS, AFP) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has warned violators of coronavirus lockdown measures that they could be shot for causing trouble, and said abuse of medical workers was a serious crime that would not be tolerated.
In a televised address, Mr Duterte said it was vital that everyone cooperates and follows home quarantine measures, as the authorities try to slow the contagion and spare the country's fragile health system from being overwhelmed.
The Philippines has recorded 96 coronavirus deaths and 2,311 confirmed cases, all but three in the past three weeks, with infections now being reported in the hundreds every day.
"It is getting worse. So once again I'm telling you the seriousness of the problem and that you must listen," Mr Duterte said late on Wednesday (April 1). "My orders to the police and military... If there is trouble and there's an occasion that they fight back and your lives are in danger, shoot them dead.
"Is that understood? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I will bury you," he warned.
His comments came after media reports of a disturbance and several arrests on Wednesday of residents in a poor area of Manila who were protesting about government food aid.
They also follow outrage among the medical community about social stigma and instances of hospital workers suffering physical abuse and discrimination, which Mr Duterte said must be stopped.
The president’s latest comments drew immediate rebuke from rights groups who urged the government to provide much-needed relief supplies instead of issuing threats of violence.
“It is deeply alarming that President Duterte has extended a policy of shoot-to-kill... Deadly, unchecked force should never be referred to as a method to respond to an emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic,” Amnesty International Philippines said in a statement.
Activists deride Mr Duterte over his fierce rhetoric and accuse him of inviting violence and vigilantism, as shown in his war on drugs, during which police and mystery gunmen killed thousands of people accused of using or selling drugs.
Police say their actions in the anti-drug campaign have been lawful.
Mr Duterte's office typically calls his remarks hyperbole to underline his point.
Philippine National Police Chief Archie Gamboa said on Thursday that officers would not begin shooting troublemakers dead.
“Probably the president just overemphasised on implementing the law in this time of crisis,” he added.