Philippines’ DoH wants to keep mask mandate

PHILIPPINE STAR/ EDD GUMBAN

PHILIPPINE health authorities want to keep the country’s face mask mandate amid a coronavirus pandemic.

“The position of the Department of Health (DoH) is for us to continue on masking,” office-in-charge Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told the ABS-CBN News Channel on Thursday.

The plan to do away with face masks, which President Ferdinand R. Marcos verbally approved, is meant to boost tourism, she said.

“We need to balance health and the economy,” Ms. Vergeire said, adding that as a compromise, the Health department had agreed to remove the mask mandate among low-risk people and under low-risk settings.

“This will only be done outdoors, in settings where it is not crowded, in settings where there is good ventilation, and this will be done among low risk individuals — meaning not the senior citizens, not those with comorbidities, not the children, and definitely not those having symptoms of COVID-19,” she added.

The Philippines and Myanmar are the only Southeast Asian nations that continue to enforce the face mask mandate outdoors, according to data from the Interior and Local government.

Foreign tourists have increased in countries that have relaxed mask rules, while fresh infections have decreased, it added.

Ms. Vergeire said Philippine coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections were manageable, adding that severe and critical cases were plateauing and that hospital admissions were fewer than 30%.

Jose Maria A. Concepcion III, a member of the Marcos government’s Private Sector Advisory Council, said the optional face mask policy outdoors are unlikely to significantly boost economic activities. 

“I don’t think there will be any difference whether you wear a mask in terms of economic activity,” he told One News Channel. “Definitely, the opening of schools will generate more economic activity, but what we’re doing with optional wearing of masks is allowing people to practice their freedom.”

Mr. Concepcion, who lobbied for easing coronavirus restrictions, said face masks should still be worn indoors, adding that seniors should also be allowed to ditch masks outdoors. “Let us give them the choice.”

The latest decision of the Philippine pandemic task force came after the mayor of Cebu City made face masks optional except in hospitals. The policy is on trial until December, according to a local order dated Sept. 5.

The policy will be automatically lifted if the city experiences a surge in coronavirus infections.

The Philippines was among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic in Southeast Asia. It had imposed one of the strictest and longest lockdowns in the world, resulting in people getting poorer amid the worst economic recession in decades.

Deaths from the coronavirus accounted for 10,226 or 6.5% of total deaths in the Philippines from January to April, according to data released by the local population commission. “For almost 2.5 years since January 2020, there have been 146,137 COVID-associated mortalities.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza