MANILA, Philippines – Wearing of face masks when outdoors is now optional in the Philippines.
Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said on Monday, September 12, that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. already signed Executive Order (EO) No. 3 allowing the voluntary wearing of face masks in outdoor settings.
The EO was the last step to make the new policy official after Marcos “verbally” approved the recommendation last week.
“The voluntary wearing of face masks in open spaces and non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation is hereby allowed provided that not fully vaccinated individuals, senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals are highly encouraged to wear their masks and physical distancing will be observed at all times,” Angeles said.
The press secretary said the public should continue to wear face masks when “indoor, private or public establishments, including in public transportation by land, air or sea and in outdoor settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained.”
The Philippines’ top medical experts opposed easing the face mask requirement, saying that it would send a wrong message to the public that they “should not be afraid of COVID-19 anymore.”
“If you relax the requirement for the use of the face mask then it basically gives the impression to a lot of Filipinos that there’s no need…. ‘You should not be afraid of COVID-19 anymore and there’s no even need to vaccinate,’” said Dr. Maricar Limpin, past president of the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP), during a roundtable discussion on COVID-19 vaccination at the New World Hotel in Makati on Thursday, September 8.
Health and economy balance
Health officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said the Department of Health (DOH)’s position was to keep the masking policy. However, she said that the DOH was presented with different evidence on striking a balance between public health and economy.
“We needed to balance between health and the economy, and what we have compromised would be, this will be done among low-risk individuals and in low-risk settings,” the DOH said in a statement last week.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Rontgene Solante said the implementation of the new rules on masking would be challenging.
“We know by history, it’s difficult in terms of implementation but it’s important for us, medical societies, even media, to again reiterate the importance and inform the population at risk that the risk will still be there even if in an outdoor [setting], and if they will not be wearing face masks. So constant communication and specific messaging will really be important when we implement this policy,” he said.
Solante, who is also part of the country’s vaccine expert panel, reiterated his earlier position that “face mask should be the last to go” in terms of pandemic health protocols.
The infectious diseases expert said that it was not right to “benchmark” the policies in the Philippines with other countries since each has a different context and situation. He was reacting to the presentation during the pandemic task force meeting which showed that it was the Philippines and Myanmar in ASEAN states that have masking mandate.
A number of countries, including those in Europe and the United States, have already dropped the mandatory wearing of face masks in most public places, although this is still recommended in some indoor places. But the caveat is that a large portion of the population in most of these countries has been vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.
In the Philippines, although over 72 million individuals have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, only 18.2 million have received booster shots. – Rappler.com