The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday said the country’s face mask mandate would remain even with the decreasing coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases.

In a radio interview, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the mandate is unlikely to be lifted anytime soon, especially with the election campaign season, where strict compliance with the minimum public health standards (MPHS) must be ensured to prevent any spike from happening.

While the Philippines is already past the recent Omicron surge, Duque said it is better to err on the side of caution.

“Hindi ako naniniwala na malapit na ‘yong panahon (na mawawala na ‘yong mask) kasi lalo na mayroon tayong campaign rallies lalo pa natin dapat paigtingin ang pagsunod sa MPHS (I don’t think we’re nearing the point where we can already remove the mask especially now with the campaign rallies where we must strengthen compliance to MPHS),” he said.

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“[M]aigi na ‘yong lagi tayong nag-i-ingat, hindi baleng tayo magkamali kung ‘yong pagkakamali naman nasa panig nga pag-i-ingat, ok lang ‘yon. Sa akin mas conservative ako, let’s continue to wear face mask dahil nakakatulong din naman to hindi lang (laban sa) Covid kundi sa pati sa influenza, tuberculosis, measles, mga airborne na sakit (It’s better to err on the side of caution. I’m more conservative when it comes to this, let’s continue to wear face mask because it also help us protect ourselves from influenza, tuberculosis, measles, and other airborne diseases),” he added.

Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the removal of the mandatory masking will only be possible if the disease becomes endemic and the country’s cases become manageable.

“Our vision would be that the mask should be the last to go,” she said in a television interview.

“A lot of things are uncertain now and one of the things that we are relying on as we shift to new normal, meaning easing of restrictions would be that people would be imbibing that culture or that practice where the mask would be part of our daily lives, vaccination is there, and also the safety protocols,” she added.

Vergeire said the government continues to prepare the country as it slowly transitions into the new normal.

Many countries, mostly in Europe, have already lifted Covid-19 restrictions due to dropping cases, which include the mandatory wearing of face masks.

For his part, Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., National Task Force (NTF) against Covid-19 chief implementer, said the lifting of the mandate on wearing face masks is unlikely by the end of the year.

“Sa ngayon po wala pa kaming discussion sa pagtatangal ng face mask. Kaya ang sinasabi ko po sa media na talagang ang last na tatanggalin natin siguro ‘yung mask kasi iyon ‘yung pinaka-defense po natin (As of now, there’s no discussion about scrapping the face mask mandate. That’s why I’ve been telling the media that the last that we will remove is probably the mask because that’s our best defense [against Covid]),” Galvez said in an interview over the DZBB’s Super Balita.

Galvez, also the country’s vaccine czar, said the face mask requirement will remain in the country until Covid-19 is “totally eliminated.”

“Ang rekomendasyon po namin talaga ay hanggang hindi pa natatapos ang pandemya at saka talaga secured na po na talagang eliminated na ang Covid-19 ay hindi po natin matatangal yung ating face mask (Our recommendation is that, until the pandemic ends and unless we’re secured that the Covid-19 is really eliminated, we can’t remove our face masks),” he said.

He said the government is still hoping for the end of the pandemic by the end of the year.

Galvez reminded the public to avoid crowded places, especially during election campaign rallies.

“Dapat maging self-aware tayo, dapat nandoon pa rin talaga yung pag-aalaga sa atin sarili (We must be conscious, we really must take care of ourselves),” he added.

Galvez also suggested that politicians should have their own health and safety marshals to make sure that public minimum health standards are being followed during the entire campaign period. (with reports from Lade Jean Kabagani/PNA)

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