DEPARTMENT of Health (DoH) Officer in Charge (OIC) Maria Rosario Vergeire met with the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to discuss the mask policy that they will recommend to President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.

This is in line with the development in Cebu City that pushed against the mandatory use of face masks.

Speaking to the media on Monday, Vergeire said that masks provide 70 to 80 percent protection against Covid-19, as well as other respiratory diseases such as flu and pneumonia.

Vergeire said that they will send the IATF recommendation to the President. His decision will be announced formally by the Office of the Press Secretary.

"There are conditions that need to be met for us to achieve easing our restrictions. We are one with all the national government agencies that we want to reach a point where we can somehow ease more of the restrictions because we would like our citizens to experience the normal we used to experience in the previous times," the Health official said.

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She also noted that Covid-19 is here to stay.

Vergeire said that the easing of restrictions should be done in a phased approach to achieve a compromise among national government agencies and balance health and the economy.

Moreover, she pointed out that Covid-19 transmission has nothing to do with the weather condition.

However, colder weather conditions may increase the vulnerability of the population, which could lead to cases of cough, cold and flu, which are Covid-19 symptoms.

"If the symptoms they are experiencing are the same with Covid-19, community surveillance should be very robust and dynamic to detect who among the community members are having Covid-19 and who among are just having flu," she said.

She advised the public that following health protocols of wearing face masks and Covid-19 vaccination are important against virus transmission and severe infection.

In a related development, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund "LRay" Villafuerte urged Health officials on Monday to make a decision soon about whether to lift the government's requirement that face masks be worn.

He suggested this in an effort to help the nation adapt to the new normal and lessen the economic damage caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Villafuerte said if Health officials insist on maintaining the requirement to wear masks as a health policy in light of the current pandemic, the government may also look into providing free face masks to low-income and poor families.

"We have had the strictest and longest lockdowns, which is one overly stringent policy that has made the Philippines one of the last economies in the region to recover from the pandemic," Villafuerte said.

As he supported the initiative of the Cebu City government to eliminate the requirement for mask usage in public areas, he suggested a more relaxed policy.

He strongly recommends that Malacañang adopt a compromise policy that would keep face masks required only in Metro Manila and other locations with high caseloads.

However, local government units in low-risk areas elsewhere in the country could extend this requirement or remove it, and allow their respective constituents to wear masks in public only on a voluntary basis.

"For instance, in CamSur, where the infection rate has been relatively low compared to those in other places, the provincial government will lift the mandatory use as soon as Health authorities decide to relax this protocol," he added.

Villafuerte cited Thailand's Ministry of Public Health as saying that wearing face masks is now optional because of the improved Covid-19 situation.

But individuals over 60, pregnant women, and those with underlying diseases should continue to do so while they are with other people.

A similar directive has also been put in place in Singapore.