MANILA — It is risky for local governments to lift face mask mandates as COVID-19 cases increase, more transmissible subvariants enter the country, and immunity from vaccines wanes, the Department of Health said Wednesday.
Health Undersecretary and spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire made the remark after Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia issued an executive order making the use of face masks voluntary in open and well-ventilated areas.
Under the current rules of the Inter-Agency Task Force Against COVID-19, removing face masks outdoors is allowed for al fresco dining and exercise in open spaces, Vergeire said.
"If you go the mountain and you do not remove your mask that’s up to you, you’re all alone there. You can always do that and no one’s going to apprehend you," she told ANC's Headstart.
"If you as a local government announce to the public, that might be risky, especially now that cases have increased, especially now that subvariants have entered the country, and the country has waning immunity."
The average daily new COVID-19 cases nationwide has increased 48 percent to 270 from 182 cases last week, according to the spokesperson. This is not yet alarming as there is no rise in severe and critical cases, Vergeire said.
The coronavirus "crosses borders," Vergeire reminded local officials.
"Transmission will not really stop if we’re going to implement this (mask mandate easing)," she said.
"We cannot be complacent at this point, nakikita pa rin nating maaaring mag-cause ng pagtaas ng kaso ang virus na ito (we can still see this virus can sill cause a rise in cases)."
Meantime, giving the general population a second booster shot is not the answer to waning immunity, Vergeire said.
The second booster shot is currently limited to health workers, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.
"The waning immunity stems from the fact that all of our primary series vaccines had been affected by the omicron variant. Therefore all of us who recovered the primary series should receive the (first) booster shot," she said.
As of Monday, a total of 69.8 million persons have been fully vaccinated, of whom 14.6 million have received an additional dose. Some 557,000 members of vulnerable sectors have received their second booster.