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Safely towards normal

Malacañang announced on Wednesday that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has recommended the lifting of the mandatory wearing of face masks in outdoor areas and that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is soon expected to issue an executive order approving the new policy and other guidelines proposed by the task force.

“According to the IATF, their recommendation is to liberalize our mask mandate and make mask-wearing outdoors voluntary across the country. It becomes optional in open spaces or noncrowded outdoor areas with good ventilation, provided that senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals are highly encouraged to wear their masks, to continue wearing masks,” Press Secretary Trixie Cruz Angeles said in a press briefing conducted via videoconferencing from Singapore.

Angeles, who was joined by Department of Health officer in charge Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire and Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos from Malacañang, added that the total lifting of the mask mandate would be pilot-tested toward the end of the year, provided there is an improvement in the COVID-19 booster vaccine coverage.

Vergeire clarified that the partial lifting of the mask mandate was not yet government policy and that the EO to be issued would serve as the legal instrument or the approval for the implementation of the policy.

Abalos said the Philippines and Myanmar are the only remaining member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that have not yet completely or partly lifted their mask mandate. He also cited date from select Asean countries correlating foreign tourist arrivals and COVID-19 cases. In Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, where the mask mandate was completely lifted, cases decreased despite the influx of foreign tourists.

Making mask-wearing voluntary outdoors makes sense for a country trying to return to normalcy and accelerate recovery. While many may disagree with the rationale behind the decision, the voluntary nature of mask-wearing will allow them to continue wearing masks outdoors for their own protection. Those who would rather not wear masks when outdoors will also be free to make that choice. This situation would’ve been achieved earlier had our vaccination rates been better, but that is the price we pay for failing to maintain the vaccination program’s peak momentum.

Once the decision to wear a mask outdoors is passed back to us, we will need to be continually aware of the situation and remaining protocols in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones from being infected by COVID-19 virus that can still put people in serious illness, the hospital and even in a crematorium.*

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