MANILA — A representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday it might be "premature" for the Philippines to widen the mandatory use of face shields in the face of threats from the heavily mutated Omicron COVID-19 variant.
The Philippines has yet to detect a case of the Omicron, which WHO classified as a "variant of concern." The UN agency is "still looking at the transmission dynamics of the transmission variant," said WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe.
"I think it will be premature now to go there and say we need to reintroduce face shields because we also know that there is significant public discontent on the mandatory use of face shields," Abeyasinghe said in a televised public briefing.
The government previously required the use of face shields in all public areas. In mid-November, it made face shields voluntary in areas under COVID-19 Alerts 1 to 3.
The whole Philippines is under Alert 2 from Dec. 1 to 15, except for Apayao province which is under Alert 3 during the same period.
"WHO has right along said that this virus is not airborne; it's close contact transmission. And that is why we emphasized that what is important is the physical distancing, and the face masking, and the hand hygiene," said Abeyasinghe.
"It’s better to take public compliance with the measures that are there, and later… reanalyze whether we need to go into the use of face shields," he added.
Video courtesy of PTV
The health department recommends face shields in closed spaces, crowded areas, and close-contact settings, like the transport sector.
"As we have increased the carrying capacities of our public utility vehicles, I think now with the threat of this Omicron variant, it will be an added layer of position that will really be good for the public," Health Secretary Francisco Duque IIII said on Monday.
"Of course, ‘pag pumasok po iyong Omicron at tumaas ang alert level, i-impose po ulit natin," Interior Secretary Eduardo Año added, referring to the face shield requirement.
(Of course, when Omicron enters and the alert level is raised, we will reimpose face shields.)
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Reuters