COVID-19

WHO rep to PH: ‘Premature’ to reimpose face shield rule amid Omicron threat

Bonz Magsambol
WHO rep to PH: ‘Premature’ to reimpose face shield rule amid Omicron threat

File photo of WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe

Rappler

WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe says it would be better to ensure public compliance with minimum public health standards such as wearing of face masks, observing physical distancing, and frequent handwashing

MANILA, Philippines – A World Health Organization (WHO) official said on Tuesday, November 30, that it would be “premature” to reimpose the mandatory use of face shields in the Philippines amid the threat of a new COVID-19 variant, since more studies are needed about Omicron.

In a televised public briefing aired on state-run PTV4, WHO Representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said in response to questions on the government’s plan to reimpose the rule that it would be better to ensure public compliance with minimum public health standards, such as wearing of face masks, observing physical distancing, and frequent handwashing.

 “If we can ensure that those minimum requirements, that those minimum public health measures are complied with, if we can ensure that people don’t congregate in closed settings, the requirement for face shields probably at this point of time is not mandatory because as I said, we are still looking at understanding the transmission dynamics of the Omicron variant,” he said.

Abeyasinghe added: “So I think it will be premature now to go there and say we need to reintroduce face shields because we also know that there is significant public discontent on the mandatory use of face shields. So it’s better to get public compliance with the measures that are there and data risk-based approach to reanalyze whether we need to go into the use of face shields or not.”

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On November 28, pandemic task force official and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr said that the government was eyeing the reimposition of the face shield policy as the country prepares for the possible entry of Omicron. He said that Health Secretary Francisco Duque III also supports the plan.

Galvez said that “some people” from the WHO believed that the mandatory use of face shield helped the Philippines beat the Delta variant because of the supposed “added protection” provided by the face shield.

In late August, Abeyasinghe said that while the Philippines was able to “sort of delay the speed of the Delta variant is transmitting, we don’t know if face shield is a contributing factor.

Public indignation over the policy was further fueled by the government’s purchase of alleged “overpriced” face shields which became the subject of marathon congressional hearings on the health department’s mismanagement of COVID-19 funds.

Face shields are personal protective equipment that covers the user’s face, partially or fully. From December 2020 to November 2021, its use, along with a face mask, was mandatory in the Philippines when leaving one’s home.

While the Philippine government has insisted on the efficacy of face shields in preventing the spread of COVID-19, studies have questioned its capacity to protect a person from respiratory droplets, through which COVID-19 is usually transmitted. The WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not recommended face shields use against COVID-19.

Some studies have also argued that face shields, when used outside of medical settings, may increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19. – Rappler.com

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.