Wearing a face mask is one of the most appropriate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infections, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III stressed Sunday.
This was as the Department of Health (DOH) again discouraged local governments from veering away from the country’s health protocols, telling them there should be only one rule that they must follow as the country battles the pandemic.
The DOH’s warning came after the provincial government of Cebu allowed the lifting of face masks outdoors but kept them in closed areas and for individuals experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
Duque, citing the survey from Johns Hopkins University, noted that the compliance of Filipinos with wearing face masks is around 91 percent to 96 percent, which means that 9 out of 10 Filipinos wear face masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duque said that it is one of the appropriate measures in place amid the pandemic.
The wearing of face mask is also a minimum requirement of public health protocols that is aimed at curbing the spread of the viral disease and is found to be effective despite the “superspreader events” that were held in the past months, he said.
“For me this is one of the most appropriate responses to this pandemic, our masking in particular and the minimum public health standards that we prioritize social distancing, hand hygiene, now adequate ventilation the airflow so these are the things I think until now even though many superspreader events have passed remember we had caravans, rallies, elections, Holy Week, [and] Ramadan,” he said in The Mangahas Interviews.
Duque had hoped that the incoming Marcos administration will continue the face mask mandate even if the number of COVID-19 cases dropped to less than 200 recently.
President Rodrigo Duterte had said the mandatory wearing of face masks will not be lifted in the Philippines until the end of his term.
“The next administration should continue it… do not remove it completely,” Duque said.
“All local governments, all of us, there is only one protocol we must follow. We need to work together so that we can achieve the new normal,” DOH Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said in a public briefing.
Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, however, defended her executive order, stressing that “local autonomy must prevail” and that the order is “optional.”
“It is us who know what our situation here is. Look around, we are only formalizing what is already happening. People are taking off their masks,” said Garcia.
However, Vergeire said other countries that prematurely lifted their face mask mandate experienced a surge of fresh cases, saying that the Philippines should wait until its “cases become manageable.”
Keeping the face-mask rule, for now, was also based on studies and recommendations made by experts, Vergeire added.
“The recommendation of our experts is not to lift the use of face masks, we must continue wearing these. We will come to that… we will come to that when we no longer need to wear face masks, but we need to manage the cases now,” Vergeire said.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on Friday said it does not recognize Cebu province’s decision to lift the face-mask rule outdoors, as this is not in line with the COVID-19 task force guidelines approved by the President.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said police would arrest individuals in the province who violate health protocols.