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Philippines not likely to drop face mask mandate in eyeing shift to ‘new normal’

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ANN) – There are no plans yet, or even a discussion among government officials on whether to drop the mandatory use of face masks even as the government plans the transition to the “new normal” during the Covid-19 pandemic, officials said yesterday.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the government is currently crafting guidelines for the “new normal” during the pandemic, which would be implemented if the country is placed under the least restrictive Alert Level 1.

“So far, there is no plan to drop the mandatory use of face mask,” Año told INQUIRER.net in a text message.

This was seconded by vaccine czar and National Task Force Against Covid-19 (NTF) Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr, saying that wearing of face masks is still “very essential” in the fight against the severe respiratory disease.

“It is not in our discussion since masking is very essential until we finally declare that Covid-19 is totally eliminated. Masking is our final defence. It would be the last thing that we will remove,” he told INQUIRER.net in a separate text message.

Residents wait for a commuter train to pass before crossing the railway tracks at a station in Manila. PHOTO: AFP

Galvez added that “voluntary masking” may happen if the health crisis is over, meaning that the Covid-19 threat is “completely eliminated and the situation is already back to normal”.

For his part, Health Secretary Francisco Duque said that the idea of no longer requiring the use of face masks is “still iffy”.

“Will discuss this as we formulate plan for the new normal,” he also told INQUIRER.net. As the spread of Covid-19 continues to slow down after an Omicron-fuelled surge, the government is eyeing to transition to the “new normal”.

The NTF and the Department of Health (DOH) are in the process of crafting the new normal roadmap, which is expected to be presented to President Rodrigo Duterte in early March.

The DOH said Alert Level 1 is the “new normal in the country”.

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