IATF proposes to lift mandatory wearing of masks in outdoor areas nationwide

·4 min read

THE Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has recommended to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. the optional wearing of face masks in open spaces across the country.

This move came after Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama issued on Aug. 31, 2022, Executive Order (EO) 5, which declares the use of masks within the city non-obligatory whether in open spaces or not, except in medical facilities upon the discretion of its administrator, and for people experiencing flu-like symptoms who go outside their residences. The order has met opposition from health experts and government officials, including members of the IATF, saying it is dangerous to lift the mask mandate as the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) still lingers.

Rama on Sept. 5 signed EO 6 to supplement EO 5 and set the period of Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, 2022 as the trial period of his non-obligatory wearing of face mask policy.

In a joint press conference at the Malacañang on Wednesday, Sept. 7, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said the IATF’s recommendation aims to “liberalize” the country’s face mask policy in “open, non-crowded and well-ventilated areas.”

The IATF’s recommendation is not yet a policy, Angeles said.

However, Marcos has verbally agreed to the recommendation, but he still has to issue an executive order to make the policy official, Department of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said in the same presser. The President is set to return to the Philippines after his state visits to Indonesia (Sept. 4-6) and Singapore (Sept. 6-7).

‘One island policy’

As for Rama, the mayor said he will wait for the President to issue an EO before he will make his next move.

Rama told SunStar Cebu on Wednesday that he will also reach out to Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia to discuss a “one-island policy” on the wearing of face masks. The governor is the first local government leader to drop the mandatory wearing of masks in open and well-ventilated spaces last June, even though the IATF’s policy on it was still in effect at that time.

The Mandaue City Government, which has an ordinance mandating the wearing of masks in public places, has said it will not follow Cebu City’s move after expressing interest in lifting the mask requirement.

Following the IATF’s latest recommendation, John Eddu Ibañez, Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes’ executive secretary, said the mayor would forward the IATF’s recommendation to the City Council to deliberate an appropriate action on the matter.

Crowded areas excluded

Based on the IATF’s proposal, Vergeire said wearing of face masks is still mandatory in transportation terminals and public utility vehicles, noting the thick crowd in these areas.

Senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals are encouraged to still wear face masks when in public spaces, whether open or not, Vergeire added.

Vergeire said the recommendation of the IATF was based on the experiences of other countries that lifted their face mask rule, as well as the level of Covid-19 vaccination in the country.

Wearing of masks indoors

The DOH official said they are also studying the possibility of lifting the mandatory wearing of face masks indoors and it may be piloted toward the last quarter of the year provided that the booster vaccination will increase its coverage.

“Gagawa tayo ng pag-aaral so we can determine kung kakayanin na po ng healthcare natin ang pagli-lift ng indoor masking. Ito po ay gagawin in phases to make sure the population is protected,” said Vergeire.

(We will conduct a study so we can determine if our healthcare can handle the lifting of indoor masking. This will be done in phases to make sure the population is protected.)

National BoosterWeek

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos urged local government units (LGUs) to strengthen their booster vaccination to strengthen their population’s wall of immunity against Covid-19.

The DOH will conduct a National Booster Week from Sept. 26 to 29 to further increase the coverage.

Abalos said LGUs should adhere to the upcoming policy, citing the provisions of Republic Act 11332, or the mandatory reporting of notifiable diseases.

He said the government will impose disciplinary actions on those who will refuse to follow.

Abalos raised discussions about the country’s face mask policy after the Cebu City Government made the wearing of face masks in all areas whether open spaces or not optional.

The Philippines currently has a total of 23,272 active Covid-19 cases.

A total of 72,620,347 individuals in the country are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 of which 18,194,645 have received booster shots or additional doses.

The number of fully vaccinated individuals covers 92.98 percent of the target population. (with reports from IRT & HIC)