(File photo)

MANILA – Filipinos will still be required to wear their face masks until President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. issues an executive order (EO) approving its optional use outdoors and other guidelines proposed by the country’s pandemic task force.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles on Thursday reminded the public that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has so far only “recommended” the optional wearing of face masks outdoors.

“The IATF ‘recommended’ that face masks be voluntary outdoors in non-crowded spaces with good ventilation. Though the vulnerable — elderly and immunocompromised — are still highly encouraged to wear their masks,” she told reporters in a text message.

Cruz-Angeles earlier said the proposed lifting of the mandatory mask requirement will be pilot tested toward the last quarter of 2022 provided there is an improvement in the country’s Covid-19 booster vaccination coverage.

“Hindi pa po ito polisiya ngunit ito na po ang nirirekomenda ng ating IATF (This is not yet policy but it is the recommendation of the IATF),” she said in a press briefing on Wednesday.

“Kailangang i-improve natin iyong statistics natin ng mga nagpa-booster na para by the end of the year, magpa-pilot test na po ng ating lifting of mandatory mask mandate (We need to improve our booster shot statistics so that by the end of the year, we can pilot test the lifting of the mandatory mask requirement),” she added.

Department of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire also said although the proposed optional wearing of face masks outdoors is not yet a policy and the DOH, as the chair of the IATF, is “initially informing the public about the recommendation”.

“..The IATF has resolved to recommend to the President that there should be, or the President will issue an executive order regarding this policy,” Vergeire said.

Vergeire, however, said she is optimistic that the President would approve of the IATF proposal.

“Based on the feedback, talagang pabor naman ang President (Based on the feedback, the President seems to be in favor of it) so the executive order can be issued immediately,” she said.

It was Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr. who first raised the proposal on the optional wearing of face masks following the Cebu City government's policy to make mask-wearing voluntary.

Citing data from different Association of the Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) countries, he said there was barely a difference between the number of Covid-19 cases in areas where wearing face masks was required and in areas where they were partially or completely lifted as long as minimum public health standards are strictly observed.

Meanwhile, Cruz-Angeles urged all government agencies to support the National Booster Week from Sept. 26 to 29 through the implementation of sector specific policies and incentives to encourage people to receive booster shots.

“Sa iba’t ibang ahensiya, mayroon silang target na for implementation ng booster policy. Bahala ang mga ahensiya na magrekomenda o for encouragement or incentives sa mga magpapa-booster (Different agencies have targets for the implementation of the booster policy. It’s up to the agencies to recommend or encourage or give incentives to those who will get their booster shots),” she added. (PNA)