Face shields can now be removed when outdoors since the risk of COVID-19 transmission in open spaces is low, treatment czar Health Undersecretary Leopoldo Vega said Wednesday amid the downward trend of cases in the National Capital Region that led to the easing of some quarantine restrictions.
The Department of Transportation said it is also studying a gradual increase in the public transport capacity, without compromising health safety standards.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) likewise extended allowing leisure travel for all ages from the “NCR Plus” bubble to Boracay and areas under the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) until the end of June, the Department of Tourism said. The extended liberalized movement would allow local government units to revive the jobs of displaced tourism workers, the DOT said.
“Face shields are needed when you’re indoors, in a mall, or having a face-to-face interaction inside,” Vega said.
Asked whether laborers who work outdoors are allowed to remove their face shields while on duty, Vega said the moisture that builds up on the shields may distract workers.
“When you’re outside, we know that the risk of transmission is very low. Especially when you’re walking along the street or working, the moisture can really affect you so you can remove it.”
Earlier, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso urged the government to rethink the policy requiring face shields when outdoors.
But Health Secretary Francisco Duque III maintained that Filipinos must continue wearing face shields since the COVID-19 vaccination coverage remains low. He also stressed that the use of shields is backed by science.
Vega stressed that face shields must still be worn indoors as “added protection” against COVID-19.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, for her part, said it has been the department’s standing policy to require face shields in the following settings: enclosed public spaces; schools; workplaces; commercial establishments such as but not limited to food establishments, malls, and public markets; public transport and terminals; places of worship; and other public spaces wherein one meter physical distancing is not possible and there is gathering of more than 10 people at the same venue at the same time.
She added the IATF allowed local government units to impose stricter measures within their jurisdictions in accordance with existing laws and guidelines.
Meanwhile, two senators urged the government to ease restrictions on returning Filipinos, who are now required to stay in a quarantine facility for 10 days where they will undergo a swab test on the seventh day from their arrival in the Philippines. They are also required to observe four more days of home quarantine.
Malou Quilitis, a Filipino working in Canada, said she and others like her wish to return to the Philippines but are having second thoughts about doing so because of the restrictions imposed by the government.
“I haven’t seen my family for a long time but one thing that’s holding me back is the long quarantine period for we only have limited time for our vacation leave,” Quilitis said in an online interview. “Many of us here in Canada want to go back home but we are afraid because it will cost us a lot.”
She said many Filipinos have already had their vaccination shots and were hoping the Philippine government would allow them to go home without the stringent restrictions.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson said small adjustments by the IATF would go a long way to helping returning Filipinos.
Because of the current restrictions, the senators added, returning Filipinos have had to spend thousands of pesos and suffer much inconvenience, including the required quarantine period at a hotel and other isolation facilities accredited by the government.
“Find the middle ground. We cannot be too stiff, too stringent. There are times we should be flexible,” said Lacson at the hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program.
Lacson cited the case of an office employee who returned from abroad earlier this year but was told to spend six nights at a hotel where many other returning Filipinos were quarantined, at P10,000 per room per night.
Yet, Lacson said the employee could have been safer at home undergoing isolation.
“You can just imagine what an ordinary employee returning to the Philippines has to go through. More than the inconvenience, he or she has to spend on hotel accommodations, swab tests, and related items,” he said.
In contrast, Lacson cited the flexibility shown by the Cebu provincial government, which implemented its own rules for testing and quarantining returning Cebu residents, including allowing returning residents to go home as soon as negative results come out, thus saving them from inconvenience and a heavy financial burden.
In the House, ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Niña Taduran said fully vaccinated Filipinos returning home should o longer be required to stay in a government-recommended quarantine facility when they arrive in the country.
Taduran said the mandatory seven-day quarantine in a government-approved facility would only burden returning Filipinos who have a very low risk of contracting or spreading the virus after being vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Most of the returning Filipinos have a limited time of staying here and are already cash-strapped. All they want is to be with their families for a longer time and spend whatever money they have for pasalubong (gifts) or other necessities,” said Taduran.
“I am asking the IATF and the DOH to reconsider this requisite quarantine, especially if the returning Filipino has been fully vaccinated by a WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine and has no symptoms of the virus upon their return in the country,” she added.
Citing a study released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Taduran said fully vaccinated individuals, specifically with an mRNA vaccine, are less likely to have an asymptomatic infection and transmit the virus.
Those who have been vaccinated with other types have been proven to lower their risk of severe illness due to COVID-9, she added.
“Some European countries and the USA have eased their travel restrictions for fully vaccinated people. Why are we making it difficult for our own countrymen?” she said.
Meanwhile, the DOH said the elderly should avoid going to public places even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
As of June 13, the Philippines has fully vaccinated 479,034 senior citizens, or about 4 percent of the 12 million to 14 million elderly people in the country, according to data from the DOH. About 1.7 million other senior citizens have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.