MANILA (UPDATED) - Health Secretary Francisco Duque on Friday rejected calls to scrap the need to wear face shields in public places, saying the policy is backed by science.
Duque's statement came after Manila Mayor Isko Moreno urged the agency not to make wearing face shields a requirement for going out, saying the poor could not afford to buy the plastic protection worn on top of face masks.
"There are many scientific studies showing that face shields in combination with face masks and more than 1 meter social distancing provide greater than 95 percent protection!" Duque told ABS-CBN News in a text message.
The Manila mayor has been calling for the removal of face shields as a requirement in public areas, citing the people's clamor against the extra layer of protection.
"Gastos 'yan sa utaw. Sa atin, ako siguro medyo maganda ang suweldo ko, hindi ko masyadong nararamdaman 'yan pero
yung ordinaryong manggagawa, medyo ano yan," he told ANC's Headstart.
(It is an extra expense for the people. To us, since we have good salaries, we don't really feel it but to ordinary workers, that's a lot.)
"I don't know if they are still intact with the people, kung talagang nararamdaman pa nila 'yung kababayan nila. In the case of the City of Manila, maraming nahihirapan... Paano 'yung may mga hika? 'Yung may mga respiratory problem?" he said.
(I don't know if they are still intact with the people, if they can still empathize with their countrymen. In the City of Manila, a lot of people are having a hard time. What about those with asthma? Those with respiratory problems?)
Senate President Vicente Sotto III also shared the same opinion.
"Not proven. No country in the world does it," Sotto told reporters when asked to comment on the matter.
The Philippines will likely implement changes in its health protocols, including ease in travel and quarantine restrictions, should the country reach certain vaccination milestones, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in an online press briefing.
"Ngayon pong mababa pa lang ang coverage natin sa immunization, atin pong pagpasensyahan muna," she said.
(We have to be patient while our immunization coverage is still low.)
DOH: AS CALLS TO REMOVE FACE SHIELDS MOUNT, CASES STILL INCREASING
In a separate statement on Friday night, Vergeire said while the health department understands the public's concerns on the matter, they are "open" to "dialogues in improving our health policies."
The health official also pointed out that COVID-19 infections have "plateaued" due to the rise of cases outside the NCR Plus bubble — Metro Manila, Laguna, Rizal, Cavite, and Bulacan — which are considered virus hotspots.
"With this trend, we cannot afford to relax the policies on personal preventive measures. We can consider loosening up these measures when we see a continuous significant decline in our daily COVID-19 cases and/or once a significant portion of our population, especially the vulnerable sectors, the elderly and then persons with comorbidities, have been fully vaccinated," she explained.
She also cited studies which showed that wearing face shields and face masks together could provide "better protection" from the virus.
In April, the DOH exempted cyclists from wearing face shields "due to its potential safety risks when used during active transport."