Studentsâ€™ temperatures are checked at a school in Manila. File
The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has recommended to President Ferdinand â€œBongbongâ€ Marcos that the wearing of face mask outdoors is â€œvoluntary.â€
This was revealed on Wednesday by Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles in a media conference in Malacanang Palace, who said the wearing of face mask in open spaces and outdoor areas with good ventilation â€œoptional.â€ But senior citizens and immune compromised individuals (those afflicted with ailments like diabetes) are â€œhighly encouragedâ€ to continue wearing face masks.
â€œAccording to the IATF, they are recommending liberalising the face mask-wearing mandate in the country and make face mask wearing outdoors voluntary throughout the country,â€ Angeles said.
Maria Rosario Vergeire, the Department of Health (DoH) officer in charge who was present at the press conference, confirmed Angelesâ€™s statement.
Vergeire said President Marcos has given â€œverbal approvalâ€ on the IATF recommendation.
Significantly, Marcos is in Singapore for a state visit, which has relaxed its rule on face mask. The president is expected to return to the Philippines on Wednesday night.
Both Angeles and Vergeire clarified, however, that the relaxation of the mask rule is not yet a policy. They said Marcos has to issue a presidential order to make it official.
Nevertheless, the IATF recommendation supported the stand of Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama who became controversial by issuing an executive order making the use of face mask outdoors â€œoptional.â€
For this, Rama got into trouble with Vergeire and other health experts who warned that his order would encourage other local officials would follow the Cebu City example.
In particular, Vergeire said the Rama order allegedly violated the â€œone nationâ€ policy to prevent COVID 19 infections by making the mandatory use of face mask both indoors and outdoors.
Dr Ted Orbosa, the former medical adviser of IATF, also believed the mask mandate should remain in place. He said the number of people with COVID 19 booster shots in the Philippines should go higher before easing the face mask rule outdoors.
As a result, Rama amended his order on Monday, which is to take effect from Sept.1 to Dec.31.
â€œThe same period shall be referred as the trial period and observation period,â€ the order read. It added that the policy will be lifted if there is a surge in COVID-19 cases in the city.