All’s Well That Ends Well: Face Mask Issue Cleared

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The national government and the Cebu provincial government have agreed to end their stand-off on the enforcement of the face mask mandate
amid COVID-19, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a gun exhibit in Mandaluyong City, Año said he talked with Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, and they agreed to a compromise regarding the province’s ordinance that made masks optional in outdoor and well-ventilated areas.

“They are currently crafting an IRR (implementing rules and regulations) there to rationalize the wearing of a face mask and we will wait for the result of the IRR before we give further guidance.

They will also craft how to enforce the ordinance rationalizing the wearing of face masks. So, they will wait for that,” he added.

Meanwhile, outgoing Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said he will be recommending the extension of the mandatory face mask mandate as the country records a notable uptick in COVID-19 cases.

“Well, if you ask me, I will recommend that it should be extended because there’s already an increasing number of cases,” Duque said during an interview Thursday with CNN Philippines.

Año earlier said the ordinance passed by the Cebu provincial board cannot supersede President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order (EO) 151, which mandates the use of face masks all over the country except in allowable circumstances.

He emphasized the country is still under a state of public health emergency and a state of calamity until September 12, 2022.

Año said the Philippine National Police will strictly enforce the mandatory face mask rule imposed by the President in Cebu, and that all police officers who refuse to follow orders from higher authorities will be relieved of duty.

Garcia, however, has argued that the resolutions of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases are merely “recommendatory in nature.”

Despite the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, the country remains at a low-risk classification with an average daily attack rate of less than 1 per 100,000 population, the Department of Health (DOH) earlier said.

Aside from COVID-19, Duque said face masks can help prevent other illnesses such as influenza, bacterial pneumonia, monkeypox, and asthma.

“So, we should continue wearing face masks for their added value. It’s not just only against COVID-19 but also against influenza, bacterial pneumonia, and others,” Duque said.

Duterte has said the mandatory wearing of face masks will not be lifted until the end of his term on June 30.

Meanwhile, Duque said he is hoping the next administration will be more open to a policy mandating COVID-19 vaccination but with exceptions.

Duque reiterated that the increase in cases may be due to many people no longer complying with minimum health standards, not all qualified people taking a booster shot, and the entrance of Omicron’s more transmissible subvariants.

The Health chief said this could also be due to the waning immunity of COVID-19 vaccines.

“The problem is we don’t have a vaccine mandate. I broached that idea but that was thumbed down by Congress,” Duque said.

“So, we’ll see if the next Congress might be more receptive to a possible policy… mandating vaccination but with clear exceptions. Not all people have to be vaccinated,” he said.

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