Finally, the Philippines Could Soon Drop Face Masks Outdoors

In Southeast Asia, only the Philippines and Myanmar still require the public to wear masks outdoors.
IMAGE SHUTTERSTOCK

On April 2, 2020, the Philippines imposed a nationwide rule compelling people to wear face masks indoors and outdoors. As COVID-19 cases continued to rise, the country took harrowing measures to keep people’s faces covered with medical-grade face masks. Then-President Rodrigo Duterte even ordered the police to detain and question violators who were not wearing face masks. At one point, veteran journalist Howie Severino was picked up by authorities as he lowered his face mask to drink while he was taking a brief break from cycling. Stringent was an understatement. 

That rule has stretched well into 2022, leaving the Philippines among the last countries in the world still requiring the public to wear face masks outside. It is also the country that imposed the longest pandemic lockdown in the world, causing the worst economic recession it experienced in decades, according to the Washington Post.

But mandatory masks are coming to an end. 

In a trial run in Cebu City, Mayor Michael Rama decalred the voluntary wearing of face masks in public. With no significant rise in cases in the city, the move proved to be a catalyst. 

On Tuesday, September 7, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. approved a recommendation to end the mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors. Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos said the policy will take effect after the President issues an executive order.

The Post cites a study that shows lifting the mandatory requirement in other countries has not led to an alarming upsurge in infections when people continue to take precautions, he said.

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With a majority of the population vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, there seems to be a lower risk of  fatality when contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The Philippines has generally flattened the curve in cases, deaths, and transmissions of COVID-19. 

But the Department of Health is still doubtful. 

Rosario Vergeire, officer-in-charge of the Department of Health, said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), led by her department, would assess the public could already drop face masks by the end of the year. One factor they are considering is whether people have already received their second booster shot for COVID-19. 

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