‘Freedom to choose:’ Face masks no longer required in Cebu City – INQUIRER.net

Residents of Cebu City still wear masks as they walk through Katipunan Street. STORY: ‘Freedom to choose:’ Face masks no longer required in Cebu City

TO WEAR OR NOT TO WEAR | Residents of Cebu City still wear masks as they walk through Katipunan Street on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. But this may change after Mayor Michael Rama issued on the same day an order lifting the mask mandate in public areas in Cebu City. —NESTLE SEMILLA

CEBU CITY—When in this city, the wearing of face masks will no longer be required except when inside medical facilities starting Sept. 1.

Mayor Michael Rama on Wednesday announced that he has issued Executive Order No. 5 stating that the wearing of face masks in outdoor places would already be voluntary but he would also leave it at the discretion of business establishments and building managers whether to require the use of face masks.

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The wearing of face masks would only remain mandatory in hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities.

“We are already going toward freedom. We are rising up and moving forward,” Rama said at a press conference on Wednesday.

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Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, the officer in charge of the Department of Health (DOH), immediately opposed the lifting of mask mandates in city, saying that one city should not make its own COVID-19 policies.

“An area in our country cannot implement its own [health] protocols, while the rest of the country are implementing a different set of protocols,” said Vergeire at a news briefing in Manila on Wednesday.

She emphasized how mobility plays a key role in COVID-19 transmission as the country has “porous borders.”

“We know that COVID-19 crosses borders. So if we are preventing infections in most areas and one area in the country will not have that kind of safeguard … the possibility and [the] risk of infections would be higher because the safeguards are not there,” explained Vergeire.

The local government officials of Cebu City did not seek DOH’s advice on this proposal, she noted.

Vergeire advised local governments to not enforce its own COVID-19 policies and instead follow those set by the national government to ensure a strong wall of immunity across the population.

“We understand that many of us want to remove masks outdoors already, and some may have seen this [lifting of mask mandates] in other countries,” she said. “But let’s follow our protocols [for] now. We will further study [removing mask mandates] once we see that there is already an adequate protection for our population through vaccinations,” Vergeire added.

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DOH records showed that as of Aug. 30, 72.5 million individuals had been fully vaccinated, but only 18 million had availed of their first booster shots.

The Cebu City government has given owners of establishments the discretion to continue letting people wear their face masks in indoor settings or to remove them

YOU DECIDE | The Cebu City government has given owners of establishments the discretion to continue letting people wear their face masks in indoor settings or to remove them. (Photo by DALE ISRAEL / Inquirer Visayas)

Get rid of the vaccine

While getting rid of COVID-19 is everyone’s responsibility, Rama said people should be given the freedom to choose whether they would continue using face masks.

To stop the spread of the virus, the mayor urged everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Cebu City, which has a population of about 1.1 million, has reached a vaccination rate of 118 percent, or over its target of 700,000 people who were eligible for vaccination.

As of Aug. 31, 980,000 residents of the city have been vaccinated against COVID-19 while 120,000 have yet to get inoculated.

A copy of Rama’s executive order would be sent to Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr. who was already informed beforehand about the city’s policy.

Declining cases

Last June, Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia made the wearing of masks optional in open spaces in the province.

Garcia’s decision caused a row between her and national government officials led by then-Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.

The Cebu provincial board eventually created an ordinance that provided teeth to the governor’s order.

Rama said he believed it was time for Cebu City to relax the rules on the use of face masks, especially that the COVID-19 cases in the city have decreased while the vaccination rates have increased.

“Wearing of face masks is nonobligatory but as a measure of self-preservation,” he said.

As of Aug. 30, Cebu City has 397 active cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections since the start of the pandemic to at least 59,000, according to the DOH-Central Visayas.

The Metro Cebu cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu were also planning to relax the rules on the use of face masks.

Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes’ executive secretary, Edu Ibañez, on Wednesday, said the local chief executive also “favors the lifting of mandatory wearing of face masks in open spaces.”

Lapu-Lapu Mayor Junard Chan told local media that he, too, might adopt the executive order of Cebu City.

The cities of Cebu, Mandaue, and Lapu-Lapu, as highly urbanized cities, are independent of Cebu province.

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