MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) on Saturday dissuaded local governments from veering away from the country's health protocols, saying there should be only one rule that they must follow as the country battles the pandemic.
This comes after the provincial government of Cebu allowed the lifting of face masks outdoors, but kept it in closed areas and for individuals experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
"Kailangan lahat ng local governments, lahat tayo, iisa lang ang protocol na susundin natin. Kailangan sabay-sabay tayo and magtulong-tulong so that lahat tayo mapupunta tayo at maaatim ang new normal na sinasabi natin," Vergeire said in a public briefing.
Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, however, defended her executive order saying "local autonomy must prevail." The order is "optional," she noted.
"It is us who know what our situation here is. Look around, we are only formalizing what is already happening. People are taking off their masks," said Garcia.
But Vergeire said other countries that prematurely lifted their face mask mandate experienced a surge of fresh cases, saying that the Philippines should wait until its "cases become manageable."
Keeping the face-mask rule for now was also based on studies and recommendations made by experts, she added.
"Kaya ang rekomendasyon ng ating eksperto ay huwag na muna, atin po munang ituloy ang pagsusuot ng face mask," she said.
"Darating tayo diyan, we take it one day at a time... darating tayo sa time na mawawala ang face masks but we need to manage the cases muna sa ngayon."
The Department of the Interior and Local Government on Friday said it does not recognize Cebu province's decision lifting the face-mask rule outdoors, as this is not in line with the COVID-19 task force guidelines approved by the President.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said police would arrest individuals in the province who violate health protocols.