MANILA (UPDATE) - Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia has issued an executive order dropping the mandatory use of anti-coronavirus masks in open spaces in the province, contrary to existing rules set by the Department of Health (DOH).
Garcia, in Executive Order 16 issued Wednesday, said that face masks would be required only in closed and air-conditioned areas.
“The use of face masks shall be optional in well-ventilated and open spaces,” the order read.
However, people with COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough or runny nose would be required to wear a mask whenever they leave their homes.
Garcia cited the improvement of the province's COVID-19 situation in easing the mask mandate.
“Other countries, including Singapore, have already directed the wearing of masks and other personal protective equipment be optional in outdoor settings,” she added in her order.
But DOH, in a statement issued Thursday afternoon, reiterated that minimum public health standards such as wearing the best fitting face mask help "keep our COVID-19 case counts low despite the detection of new subvariants."
Under current IATF protocols, the removal of face masks is only allowed when an individual is eating or in a well-ventilated area, the DOH said.
"The COVID-19 virus is still present and the pandemic is not yet over. Individuals can still catch the virus, most especially for our vulnerable population," the statement read.
"Let's be responsible and do our part by wearing the best-fitted mask, isolate when sick, double-up protection through vaccination and boosters, and ensure good airflow. For those already vaccinated, immunity wanes over time. Get your booster shot ASAP."
According to the latest health bulletin released by the Central Visayas health office, Cebu recorded an average of 36 COVID-19 cases daily from May 29 to June 4. Around 4 million people in the region were fully vaccinated.
The Department of Health earlier said the mandatory use of face masks would be the "last to go" in the country's transition to the new normal.
President Rodrigo Duterte and the Inter-Agency Task Force have several times urged the province to follow national mandates in its COVID-19 response.
— Report from Annie Perez; With reports from Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News