MANILA (UPDATED) – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Saturday said his administration may consider making wearing face masks optional when it is already safe to do so, just as he vowed to no longer enforce strict and wide lockdowns.
Marcos, who has twice tested positive for COVID-19, also emphasized in a speech the importance of ramping up the country's booster uptake, especially for children, as his administration plans to fully allow the resumption of in-person classes this year.
"So let us return to the idea of what we did last year na magkaroon ulit ng vaccine rollout. Gawin na natin ito para makatiyak na tayo. At pagka maging matagumpay ang ating booster rollout ay makikita naman natin siguro puwede na nating ibaba ang mga alert level, puwede na nating gawing optional ang mask," Marcos said.
“Pero hindi po natin gagawin ’yan hanggang maliwanag na maliwanag na safe na talaga. Dahil although so far maganda naman ang takbo, hindi naman napupuno ang mga ospital. Ngunit kung hindi tayo maingat, mapupunta na naman tayo doon.”
A high rate of COVID-19 vaccination, he said, would help reopen the economy and address the country's problem with the pandemic.
"'Yung booster will be the one that will be the answer for us na makabalik na tuloy-tuloy makabalik na sa opening of our society, opening of our economy, opening of our businesses. Iyon naman talaga naman ang habol nating lahat."
Marcos issued the statement during his virtual message to mayors and governors on Friday while he was still in isolation.
So far, only the provincial government of Cebu has ordered making face masks optional in open spaces, drawing the ire of the Department of the Interior Government and the Department of Health during the last days of the Duterte administration.
Mask-wearing in Cebu, however, is still necessary in closed areas and places of mass gathering.
NO MORE LOCKDOWNS
Marcos said his administration will not enforce wide lockdowns.
This was also the sentiment of Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno, who disapproved the idea of placing many areas under quarantine. The Philippines currently uses a 5-tier COVID-19 alert scheme.
What Marcos wants people to do is to get their boosters so the country could slowly go back to normal.
The government aims a phased implementation of face-to-face classes by September and full in-person classes by November.
"Unang-una diyan talaga ‘yung face-to-face. Malaking bagay ‘yan parang magbubukas talaga ang ating ekonomiya, magbubukas na naman ang ating lipunan at hindi na natin iniisip ang lockdown," he said.
"Gawin natin itong booster rollout at makakatiyak tayo wala ng lockdown at ayaw na ayaw na naming magkaroon ng lockdown."
The Philippines has seen a slight rise in new COVID-19 cases amid the presence of more transmissible omicron variants.
On Friday, the Department of Health reported 1,712 new cases and 14 new deaths.
The number of active cases (12,528) was the highest since April 25, ABS-CBN Data Analytics head Edson Guido said.
Based on DOH's vaccination dashboard, nearly 15.2 million individuals already got their boosters as of Saturday.