Face masks should stay if gov’t decides to shift to Alert Level 0 – expert

Bonz Magsambol
Face masks should stay if gov’t decides to shift to Alert Level 0 – expert

QUEUE. Applicants line up outside the Double Dragon Plaza in Pasay City on September 28, 2021, to pick up their passports at the Department of Foreign Affairs.


Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Rontgene Solante says that an important factor to consider in shifting to Alert Level 0 is meeting a 90% vaccination coverage

MANILA, Philippines – An infectious diseases specialist said on Friday, March 11, that if the government decides to shift to Alert Level 0 for COVID-19, wearing of face masks should still be mandatory for the public.

“Well, at this point na pagbaba ng kaso at healthcare utilization (Well, at this point that infections and healthcare utilization have been declining), if ever we will be downgrading to Alert Level 0, mukhang ready na tayo (it seems that we’re ready). But still, we have to maintain our mask even if we are on Alert Level 0 because that’s the most important protection,” said Dr. Rontgene Solante at the Laging Handa press briefing.

Solante is part of the Philippines’ vaccine expert panel. He heads the adult infectious diseases and tropical medicine unit at San Lazaro Hospital, and is former president of the Philippine Society for Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

“‘Yung sa Alert Level 0 parang kumbaga parang ordinary infection na lang ang pagtrato natin sa COVID-19 like Influenza, even Dengue. Since we know that Omicron variant is still in the community, mataas pa rin ang hawaan. Also an important factor there is hindi pa rin tayo umaabot ng 90% then we presume retaining these protocols, like face mask and hand washing,” Solante said.

(Under Alert Level 0, it would seem that we will be treating COVID-19 as an ordinary infection, like Influenza and Dengue. Since we know that Omicron variant is still in the community, transmission is still ongoing. Also an important factor here is that we haven’t meet the 90% target of vaccination then we presume retaining these protocols, like wearing of face masks and hand washing.)

Solante said this when asked what health protocols should remain when the country shifts to Alert Level 0.

The Philippines adjusted its target to 90 million fully inoculated individuals by end of June in preparation for new COVID-19 variants, said Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje. She heads the National Vaccination Operations Center.

As of Wednesday, March 9, the country has fully vaccinated some 63.9 million people.

Earlier this week, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said experts and government advisers were looking into a possible Alert Level 0 and whether the mandatory use of face masks would be retained, given the continued drop in coronavirus infections. He said that the pandemic task force was already studying possible guidelines for the lowest alert level.

Face masks have become essential in surviving a pandemic. For more vulnerable groups, the right face mask could spell the difference between life and death. The government has since required the public to wear face masks, especially when outside their homes.

Currently, Metro Manila and some 39 other areas are under Alert Level 1.

Under Alert Level 1 or what the government considers as the “new normal,” establishments and public transportation are allowed to be fully operational. There are also no restrictions on the movement of people from different age groups, though this is subject to specific rules that may vary among local government units. 

After reeling from the surge in infections driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant, COVID-19 cases in the Philippines continue to decline, with infections staying below 1,000 for more than a week. –

Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol is a multimedia reporter for Rappler, covering health, education, and social welfare. He first joined Rappler as a social media producer in 2016.