Experts wary over eased face mask rule, warn of impact on anti-COVID vax drive
MANILA, Philippines — Although COVID-19 cases appear to be declining, medical experts on Thursday expressed caution over the government’s decision to relax its mask rule.
Some doctors have even argued that removing the face mask rule and easing other health protocols would hurt the vaccination drive by leading people to believe they do not need to be vaccinated.
“It’s not yet time” to loosen up on wearing a face mask even while outdoors, infectious disease expert Dr. Rontgene Solante warned, as he defended the mask rule and emphasized the need to never disregard health emergency protocols.
“Most of us agree that it’s not yet time to really put off masks outdoors, even in the downtrend of cases,” he said.
“We need to think of other aspects of how we can improve, and we should focus on boosting the population rather than tinkering with our policies which for me have been very important,” he added.
Solante explained that the country currently enjoys a low number of COVID-19 infections because “we are the only country that has been mandating masks for several years now and several months even with the cases going down or trends going down.”
“We focused on protecting the population both indoor and outdoor and for me, it will be the last policy that should be relaxed,” he said, referring to the face mask rule.
Another warning was also issued by former PCP president Maricar Limpin. She said removing the mask rule could slow down government immunization efforts, particularly COVID-19 booster doses.
“It basically also gives the impression to a lot of Filipinos that there is really no need to vaccinate. You should not be afraid of the covid-19,” said Limpin during the same roundtable discussion.
“So papaano na mangyayari sa booster campaign natin? (So what will happen to our booster campaign?) That will also weaken the campaign for the entire vaccination program,” she added.
On Wednesday, Malacañang announced that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) had recommended the voluntary use of face masks outdoors.
Similarly, the Department of Health (DOH) said the IATF resolution on eased face mask mandate is still “recommendatory.”
DOH officer-in-charge Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire explained that the resolution only applies to situations where people are not likely to be in close quarters and where ventilation is sufficient.
She also said that the voluntary wearing of face masks outdoors is only for people with low health risks, so senior citizens, people with comorbidities, children, and COVID-19-positive individuals are still required to wear face masks at all times.
“The position of the DOH is for us to continue on masking, but there were several [pieces of] data that were also presented that led to this decision,” Vergeire said in a statement.
“We needed to balance between the health and economy, and what we have compromised would be, this will be done among low-risk individuals and in low-risk settings,” she added.
As of September 7, the country has 22,899 active infections of COVID-19.
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
The Inquirer Foundation supports our healthcare frontliners and is still accepting cash donations to be deposited at Banco de Oro (BDO) current account #007960018860 or donate through PayMaya using this link.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.