DOH warns of dire results if other LGUs disregard national mask protocol
The Department of Health (DOH) on Friday said it would be disastrous if other local government units (LGUs) followed Cebu City’s lead and made mask-wearing voluntary while the COVID-19 pandemic rages.
“That’s one of our worries,” DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino. “That would be really disastrous for all of us.”
In defiance of a national mask mandate, Cebu City made mask wearing voluntary in open spaces starting Sept. 1, despite an appeal from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Local Government Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. on Friday said there had been “miscommunication” when he said Cebu Mayor Mike Rama had agreed to suspend the policy until the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) had discussed the issue.
At a briefing Friday, Vergeire emphasized the importance of taking a “one-nation approach” in the country’s COVID-19 pandemic response.
“Just imagine if one or two or three LGUs are implementing different protocols, what will happen to us when the virus crosses borders?” she said.
Enforcing different health measures may also increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19, she said.
“In this pandemic response, everybody has to be one. We need to be united. We need to have only one protocol so that we can protect everyone,” she added.
Vergeire also said COVID-19 cases must stabilize before the government can lift the mandatory face mask policy.
She added that COVID-19 was not yet at an endemic stage in the Philippines.
“When we say endemic stage, this means that the cases are stable and the immunity of the population is high,” she said.
Vergeire said the IATF, the government’s policy-making body for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to convene next week.
Abalos said despite the mix-up with Rama, he would propose to the IATF that Cebu City be made a pilot test for lifting mask protocols in outdoor areas and wide-open spaces.
Also on Friday, the DOH said the country’s total jab rate for the COVID-19 booster shot is improving.
“We used to average 50,000-60,000 jabs a day. These past few days we have been at 180,000-190,000, and that’s a good indication,” Vergeire told ABS-CBN TeleRadyo.
“But if we look at the numbers nationwide, that is still a bit slow, although we see intensive efforts on the ground,” she said.
“We just really need to convince our countrymen to get boosters because access is already there. We just need to encourage them to get the vaccine,” Vergeire added.
Vergeire said the government is keen on distributing first booster doses to those who need them before giving second boosters to more of the population.
“Let us finish our first boosters first. We need to complete it while we await evidence that second boosters are of good quality and really protect the rest of our population,” she said.
As of Aug. 11, about 1.3 million people have received their first COVID-19 booster shot under the government’s “PinasLakas” campaign.
The PinasLakas campaign aimed to administer COVID-19 booster shots to 23 million eligible individuals within the first 100 days of the Marcos administration.