By Joseph B.A. Marzan
The Iloilo provincial government might undo mask wearing mandates if the province shifts to the more permissive Alert Level 1 amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
This was the response of Gov. Arthur Defensor Jr. to proposals to dispose of the mandatory wearing of face masks in the country if the COVID alert level status de-escalates to the lowest level.
In his press conference, Defensor referred to Alert Level 1 as “the new normal” in responding to the prevailing COVID menace, saying it will led to scaling down of existing public health measures.
In accordance with Alert Level 1 status, Defensor said it would be the time when the public can do away with the masks, but he would still advocate for the voluntary wearing of face coverings in public settings, among other public health standards.
“[Face masks] can help not only for COVID-19, and there are others who are having other diseases because of their bodily conditions. When it comes to the new normal, the measure of the face masks will also have to go. But no one is prohibiting us from wearing it to protect ourselves. It is good to continue the practices that we have learned [over the course of the] COVID-19 [pandemic],” the governor said.
Defensor also affirmed the scrapping of the liquor ban in high-risk establishments, as well as loosening capacity in indoor venues under Alert Level 1.
COVID-19 response chief implementer Carlito Galvez told 24 Oras on Tuesday that a new administration may start scrapping face mask requirements in the fourth quarter of 2022 as part of a “new normal” strategy.
But Galvez clarified his position on the matter by echoing Interior Secretary Eduardo Año on Wednesday, stating that face masks should remain required even under Alert Level 1.
Defensor also spoke briefly about COVID vaccinations of children aged 5 to 11 years old, which started Monday, Feb 14.
The governor said that the challenges in adult and older pediatric vaccinations were also present in getting the younger age group to have their jabs.
He mulled more strategies to be implemented to boost COVID vaccinations and booster shots for all ages.
“The challenges in our over-all vaccinations remain the same [with the 5- to 11-year-old age group]. There is still that hesitancy, that apprehension of the general populace when it comes to the [COVID] vaccine,” said the governor.
Iloilo Provincial Health Office (IPHO) data as of 6 a.m. of Feb. 17 indicated that 5,581 children aged 5 to 11 have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Maria Socorro Quiñon, the IPHO chief, said last Monday that they aim to be able to finish up their stock of 10,000 first doses within this week.
Those who have been vaccinated on Feb. 14 may expect to get vaccinated for their second dose on March 7, or 21 days after the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.