Voluntary mask-wearing

Scientific and medical studies have proven that fully -vaccinated and boosted individuals have a greater chance of surviving the infection.

September 13, 2022

I remember walking the tightrope between the pandemic response of preserving lives and saving the economy when I was a member of the Inter -Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. The incident exactly happened a year ago. As the spokesperson, I had the unenviable task of defending IATF decisions that were responsive at best, and tone-deaf at worst.

Critics lionized my strong opposition against a fourth nationwide lockdown (lobbied by some overzealous doctors) at the expense of our battered economy. They even broadcast an illegal footage of a secret IATF meeting wherein I assailed the lockdown recommendation. Many Filipinos have lost a loved one or an acquaintance to the virus. However, the reality is that we also need to keep our economy going. Ironically, these doctors wanted a lockdown to protect more lives. But a lockdown would have brought more suffering or perhaps death to countless unemployed, incomeless, and poor Filipinos.

My contention remains: The government should strike an acceptable balance between public health and the health of our economy. Maintaining public health standards is king. Nonetheless, we also need to spur economic activity to fast-track our country’s socio-economic recovery. Dahil walang buhay kung walang hanapbuhay (Because there is no life if there is no livelihood).

Thank you, Mr. President

I applaud the decision of President Marcos Jr. to liberalize our mask mandate. Under Executive Order 3, we now have the option to mask up in open areas and non-crowded settings. The operative word here is “voluntary.”

The directive has carefully weighed the economic impacts of mask requirements in the context of our high vaccination rate and decreasing number of Covid-19 patients. According to the Department of Health, 72.7 million Filipinos have been fully-vaccinated as of 11 September. The department has also administered 18.5 million booster shots. We are on the cusp of achieving herd immunity.

The EO makes complete sense since most of our Southeast Asian neighbors have either rescinded or relaxed their mandates. The United States and several European Union members have become “mask-free” countries.

Moreover, the presidential declaration is in keeping with PBBM’s campaign message of “healing as one nation to accelerate the pandemic recovery.” Hopefully, it paves the way to more business investments, employment, and livelihood opportunities for Filipinos.

Exemptions and caveats

There are caveats, though. We must strictly observe social distancing and should only dispense with face covering in well-ventilated outdoor areas. If an outdoor setting cannot maintain physical distancing, wearing masks is required. The government also urges individuals who are not fully vaccinated, senior citizens, and immunocompromised persons to wear masks at all times.

Let me emphasize that the voluntary wearing of masks outdoors is not absolute. It is still compulsory in all indoor private or public establishments and public transportation by air, land, or sea.

For Filipinos who remain unvaccinated, I advise them to limit their outdoor activities. Or get immediately inoculated against the virus. Please do not listen to anyone who would state the contrary. I do not believe they love themselves and the people around them enough.

Scientific and medical studies have proven that fully-vaccinated and boosted individuals have a greater chance of surviving the infection. Getting immunized would also prevent the spread of Covid-19.

According to the World Health Organization, vaccination and immunization programs save millions of lives per year. A 2022 study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases claimed that Covid vaccines saved 20 million lives between December 2020 and December 2021.

Kudos, Cebu

With the EO in effect, allow me to congratulate Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia and Cebu City Mayor Mike Rama for their political will and foresight. These leaders have pioneered an effective “localized pandemic response that is informed by multi-stakeholder consultations.”

Last month, Mayor Rama issued an executive order which allows voluntary mask-wearing within the city, except in hospitals, clinics, and medical facilities. Weeks later, Malacañang Palace issued a similar directive. In September last year, Governor Garcia issued a memorandum that shortened the quarantine period for returning overseas Filipinos to five days. The IATF later adopted this protocol later on.

In both instances, some IATF doctors criticized the respective directives of the Cebu Governor and Mayor. But they were unfazed. They have highlighted the urgency of generating employment and livelihood for the people of Cebu while maintaining public health standards.

May our national recovery from the pandemic remain on the right track. Let us follow the health protocols. Get vaccinated and boosted. Keep safe, Philippines!


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