MANILA, Philippines – A health expert has urged the Marcos administration to “slow down a bit” on easing pandemic restrictions in the Philippines, as its healthcare system is still lacking compared to neighboring countries that have relaxed their mask mandates.
Philippine College of Physicians past president Dr. Maricar Limpin made the call during a Rappler Talk interview on Wednesday, October 26, a day after the government announced that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will release an executive order making indoor masking voluntary.
“It is best to slow down a bit and not hurry too much. Maybe we can do it a week after All Saints’ Day or maybe two weeks after just to see what will happen when people go out for Undas,” Limpin said.
COVID-19 cases are still on the rise. Latest data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed that daily average cases is at 1,714. The government booster program is also stalling. Only 25% or 20.5 million of the 73.5 million fully vaccinated individuals have received their first booster shot. (READ: Why few Filipinos are taking COVID-19 booster shots)
Tourism Secretary Cristina Frasco said that the move to scrap the mandatory mask wearing policy was “to allow our country to be at par with our ASEAN neighbors who have long liberalized their mask mandates.”
But for Limpin, the government should stop comparing the Philippines to its neighbors since they have better healthcare systems. She noted that Singapore and Malaysia, for example, “are way ahead as far as health system is concerned.”
“Basically, they are prepared for any event that can happen in their country. But in our case, our healthcare system, it still needs a lot of improvement. I think, comparing the Philippines against our ASEAN neighbors, they are not the same. I think we stop doing this,” she added. (READ: Health care in Philippines, Myanmar ‘concerning’ – UN report)
At the height of the pandemic in 2021, various hospitals were hit by a rash of resignations, aggravating the shortage of manpower and exposing once more the plight of health workers in the Philippines.
The easing of pandemic restrictions comes as the country detected cases of the more transmissible Omicron XBB.
The XBB, another subvariant of the more transmissible Omicron variant, is reportedly behind the spike in cases in Singapore in recent weeks. While the XBB appears to evade vaccine immunity and is even more transmissible than the BA.5 subvariant, Singapore health authorities said there was no evidence that the variant has caused more severe illness in patients who have been infected so far.
In September, Marcos allowed voluntary outdoor masking, which was opposed by top Philippine medical experts. They said that it would send a wrong message to the public that they “should not be afraid of COVID-19 anymore.” (READ: Outdoor wearing of face masks now optional in the Philippines) – Rappler.com