(PNA photo by Avito C. Dalan)

MANILA – The daily average of Covid-19 cases nationwide may reach 18,000 in the next two months should the public opt to ditch the wearing of face masks, a health official said Thursday.

In a radio interview, Department of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said she presented a possible scenario of increased daily infections during an Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) meeting last week.

“Sinasabi sa projections na towards November and December of this year, kung magtatanggal tayo ng masks, maaaring tumaas ang kaso natin (Projections showed that towards the end of November and December of this year, if we discontinue wearing of masks, our cases be in the range) from 2,500 at the lower limit, to as high as 18,000,” she said.

Vergeire, in a television interview, confirmed that the wearing of face masks is voluntary “across all settings” nationwide.

“Based on the agreement, the IATF resolution, and based on what has been proposed to the President, it's going to be voluntary nationwide,” she said.

Citing that the term "voluntary" boils down to "individual informed decisions", Vergeire said every person has to know the risks and be able to decide whether one can afford not to wear a face mask in certain situations.

“In depth, there's this agreement with the IATF, where we have a unified messaging that we still encourage the wearing of masks, especially in high risk areas katulad po ng public transport, katulad po ng healthcare facilities at katulad po ‘yung mga vulnerable natin, mga matanda, buntis, hindi bakunado, kailangan alam nila 'yung risk nila (like public transport, healthcare facilities, and the vulnerable like the elderly, pregnant and unvaccinated) they still need to, we still highly encourage that they wear their masks,” she said.

When asked whether face mask use in public transportation is mandatory, Vergeire said they are still awaiting for the president to issue an executive order.

"We are still proposing that it would be mandatory. Whether it be voluntary or mandated, I hope that our citizens would always decide for the best for them and for their families. Let us wear a mask when in public transportation and crowded places," she added.

On Wednesday, infectious diseases expert Dr. Rontgene Solante warned the public about a possible rise in Covid-19 infections following the detection of the Omicron XBB subvariant and XBC variant in the country.

As of Oct. 26, the country logged 1,121 new Covid-19 infections which brought the overall tally to 3,997,941 with 21,325 active cases. (PNA)