PBBM to issue EO on policy to put PH ‘at par’ with ASEAN neighbors
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will issue an executive order making the wearing of face masks indoors voluntary, Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said Tuesday, saying this would put the Philippines “at par” with its Asean neighbors that have already eased their mask mandates against COVID-19.
The agreement was reached during a Cabinet meeting that she attended Tuesday, Frasco said.
“As a result of the Cabinet meeting, it was agreed that the President would be issuing an executive order per the IATF recommendation to make indoor mask wearing also voluntary all over the Philippines Optional with few exceptions,” Frasco said, referring to the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
The mandatory use of face masks will stay in public transportation, medical transportation, and medical facilities, she said.
She also said that persons unvaccinated against COVID-19, those with co-morbidities and senior citizens are still “highly encouraged” to wear masks.
“Generally the direction of the Marcos administration is to lift the remainder of travel restrictions of the Philippines, which includes easing mask mandates to allow our country to be at par with Asean neighbors who long liberalized their mask mandates,” she added.
The Department of Health (DOH), which has been cautious about easing mask mandates, reminded the public that the more layers of protection they have, the more they are protected against COVID-19.
“While the DOH has illustrated all potential scenarios to the IATF during discussions concerning masking mandates, the IATF is a collegial body that takes into consideration the concerns of all sectors,” the department said in a statement.
“In view of this, the DOH reminds the public that the more layers of protection we employ, the more protected we are against COVID-19. These include vaccination, masking, distancing, ventilation, and sanitation, as well as taking care of one’s health.”
“Moreover, the decision to ease masking empowers each and every one of us by giving us the choice to decide based on our personal context and risk appetite. With this freedom to choose, it is therefore important for us to assess our individual risk thoroughly before deciding if it is safe and wise to remove our masks, especially now that the Undas and Christmas seasons are approaching and we expect increased COVID-19 transmission brought about by greater mobility.”
In September, Marcos signed EO 3, allowing the voluntary wearing of face masks in outdoor settings, particularly in open spaces and non-crowded areas with good ventilation.
Frasco did not mention when Marcos will sign the new EO allowing the voluntary use of face masks indoors.
Meanwhile, Frasco said travelers will no longer need to undergo a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test as a pre-departure requirement.
Unvaccinated foreigners will be allowed entry into the Philippines as long as they present negative results of an antigen test taken 24 hours before departure. As an option, they can also take an antigen test upon arrival in the Philippines, Frasco said.
Marcos and the Cabinet also agreed to give travelers the option of getting their eArrival card upon arrival in the country.
Those without an eArrival card will be given special lanes when they arrive in the country, she said.
Lawmakers welcomed the easing of mask mandates.
Senator Grace Poe said the move would help invigorate the economy.
“Loosening the mask mandate and regulations on the entry of tourists will help generate economic activities, foremost among them is providing jobs to our people,” she said in a statement, also on Tuesday.
However, Poe said the public should still adhere to the minimum health protocols, like frequent hand washing and maintaining good hygiene, even if the World Health Organization sees the pandemic ending soon.
Reps. Joel Chua of Manila and Ralph Tulfo of Quezon City also backed the Palace’s move to ease mask rules.
“Tourism sites and schools have been reopening, so lifting the mask mandate and transitioning to voluntary mask-wearing, I believe, is crucial to living in a new normal,” Chua said.
“Health authorities seem to be unnecessarily overly cautious and have needlessly delayed further relaxing of Alert Level One public health safety protocols,” he added.
He said they should instead make more of the bivalent booster vaccines available and readily accessible now and more so in the coming weeks. The boosters are the better alternative to mask-wearing, he said.
Tulfo, member of the House committee on Metro Manila Development, also supported easing the mask mandate.
On Tuesday, the country logged 943 new COVID-19 cases — the lowest number of daily tally in nearly four months.
The DOH also recorded 32 fatalities, raising the death toll to 63,846.
The number of active cases stood at 21,924.