The Department of Health is just waiting for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to issue an executive order on the optional use of face masks outdoors to make it a national policy, even as it appealed to commuters to keep their masks on while waiting in line for public transportation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Mr. Marcos met with DOH and Department of Interior and Local Government executives on Thursday night to discuss the mask mandate, DOH officer-in-charge Ma. Rosario Vergeire said the optional wearing of face masks outdoors is not yet a national policy.
The DOH, as the chair of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), is just “initially informing the public about the recommendation,” Vergeire added.
“Because there was this verbal approval from the President when they talked with Secretary Benhur [Abalos Jr.] from DILG, but it stated in IATF Resolution Number 1 Series of 2022 that the IATF ‘has resolved to recommend to the President and that there should be (a written order), or the President will issue an executive order regarding this policy,” she said.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles, meanwhile, said the President is “optimistic” over the IATF-EID proposal to make face mask use voluntary outdoors.
“Let’s just say he’s optimistic for now. It’s better if it will come from him…but right now we think the reception is optimistic,” she said.
The IATF recommendation on the voluntary use of face masks outdoors is now under the President’s “thorough scrutiny,” Cruz-Angeles stressed.
Mr. Marcos said he was “happy” the government’s intensified vaccination campaign against the coronavirus has helped lower COVID-19 cases, which had spiked over the last two months.
When it comes to public transport, “even if we are just waiting in line, we need to wear our masks,” Vergeire said, reiterating that the optional wearing of face masks only covers low-risk individuals and will apply to low risk settings.
“If you are not senior citizens, don’t have comorbidities or don’t have immunocompromised conditions, we can also remove. One can remove his face mask based on his risk assessment,” she added.
The Department of Tourism (DOT), meanwhile, said it is supporting the IATF recommendation on the optional wearing of face masks in openspaces.
The DOT emphasized the urgent need for the national government to adapt to prevailing global practices, and to be consistent with protocols implemented by ASEAN neighbors on entry processes and health and safety protocols.
Tourism Secretary Cristina Frasco noted that based on a comparative analysis of mask mandates, COVID-19 incidence, and tourist arrivals of the Top 5 ASEAN countries comprised of Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia, easing of mask mandates did not contribute to the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Certain countries in the Western Hemisphere have also begun lifting mask mandates since 2021. This includes the United Kingdom in April 2021, the rest of the EU in May 2021, and the US in June 2021.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte also welcomed the imminent lifting of the mandatory use of face masks outdoors.
Given this development, Villafuerte said the government must start handing out masks to poor and low-income families at this time when the global oil shock and unabated spike in food prices have made it extremely difficult for these folk to cope with the ever-spiraling cost of living.”
He called on health authorities to further speed up the vaccine rollout, especially of booster jabs, so the government can decide soon enough or before the year is over to make mask-wearing voluntary across the country. With Vince Lopez, Othel V. Campos and Maricel V. Cruz