(PNA photo)

MANILA – An infectious disease expert on Tuesday said the optional wearing of face masks in public open spaces is not advisable at this time.

Dr. Rontgene Solante was reacting to the dry run of voluntary wearing of face mask in Cebu City which already started and expected to end in December.

“I am not in favor of lifting or iyong optional na lang ang pagsuot ng mask sa outdoor for reasons like mababa pa rin ang booster population natin sa general public (optional wearing of masks outdoors for reasons like low booster population in the general public),” Solante said in a televised public briefing.

Citing that the Omicron subvariant is still circulating, Solante said such face mask policy is “dangerous”.

Earlier, Department of Health officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire insisted on the wearing of face mask as it scientifically provides 70 to 80 percent protection against Covid-19 and other infectious diseases.

“Well, in fact pinayagan na natin lahat ng tao, in terms of makalabas na, makapag-conduct na ng mga different activities but palagi nating sinasabi na if there is a policy na magiging last na nating tanggalin will always be the health protocol at kasama na diyan iyong pagsuot ng (we have allowed everyone in terms of going out and conducting activities but we always say if there’s a policy which we’ll remove last that will always be the health protocol which includes wearing of) face mask, whether it’s outdoor or indoor,” Solante said.

When asked if Cebu City’s policy on face mask use could be practiced in Metro Manila, Solante said “it may be imitated but not at this point in time of the pandemic”.

Positivity rate and booster vaccination coverage are two of the factors that must be considered when lifting the face mask protocol at any place, he noted.

The country’s health experts say that lifting the face mask mandate would make the public complacent about their responsibility to protect themselves and others during a pandemic and their need to receive booster doses or primary series of Covid-19 vaccine.

“We experience still more cases na nakita natin sa mga hospital ngayon, iyong (that we see in hospitals now, the) vulnerable population,” Solante said. “There is still this vulnerable population, high-risk of severe Covid and in fact, mataas ang mortality sa mga population na ito (the mortality rate is high in this population)."

Solante urged local leaders to closely coordinate with the Department of Health about the implementation of such policies “that are very drastic as they involved the protection of people”.

“They should also consult with their experts, the local experts and look at the benefit, the risk, kung mayroon mang mga ganitong klaseng mga polisiya, not because of ang sasabihin lang (if there’s a policy like this and not just say) ‘because we want the economy to recover’,” he said.

Everybody wants to recover and be able to work but a balance between economy and public health must be maintained where health protocols are observed, he added. (PNA)