Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte told police and the military to shoot dead anyone “who creates trouble” during a coronavirus lockdown of the island of Luzon.
In a televised address, Mr Duterte said it was vital everyone co-operated and followed home quarantine measures, as authorities tried to slow the spread of the virus and spare the country’s fragile health system from being overwhelmed.
He also said abuse of medical workers was a serious crime that would not be tolerated.
The Philippines has recorded 96 coronavirus deaths and 2311 confirmed cases, all but three in the past three weeks. Infections are 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.
“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.”
On Thursday, the country’s national police chief said police understood that Mr Duterte was demonstrating his seriousness about public order, and no one would be shot.
The president’s comments came after media reports of a disturbance and the arrests of 21 residents of a slum in Manila on Wednesday after they protested about a lack of government food aid.
The residents claimed they had received no food packs or other relief supplies since beginning a lockdown more than two weeks ago.
Those arrested included six women.
Police Brigadier General Ronnie Montejo said they will be charged with violating a new law that requires millions of people to stay home under quarantine.
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.
Activists deride Mr Duterte for his fierce rhetoric and accuse him of inviting violence and vigilantism, as shown in his war on drugs, during which police and mystery gunmen have killed thousands of people accused of using or selling drugs.
Mr Duterte’s office typically calls his remarks hyperbole to underline his point.