COVID-19 Crisis: Cebu City Government sets voluntary face mask policy on trial period until December 2022

In recent times here in the Philippines, Cebu City has been getting a lot of attention with regards to the COVID-19 crisis we are all living with. This was because the City Government decided to loosen the face mask mandate within the city’s jurisdiction and the Department of Health (DOH) claimed that they were “never consulted” about it. Just yesterday, GMA Network reported that the City Government of Cebu announced that the voluntary face mask policy will be set on a trial period until the end of 2022. In case a COVID-19 surge, the said policy will be lifted automatically. Already, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has its attention on Cebu City.

To put things in perspective, posted below is the excerpt from the GMA Network news report. Some parts in boldface…

The Cebu City government on Monday announced that its voluntary face mask policy will be on trial period until December 2022, and will be automatically lifted should there be a surge in COVID-19 infections in the city.

In reading the Executive Order (EO) No. 6, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama’s spokesperson Karla Henry-Ammann said that the trial period of the EO 5 which lifted the mandatory face mask use in the city, was set from September 1 to December 31, 2022.

The same period is hereby referred to as the trial and observation period,” she added.

Further, Ammann said the EO will be automatically lifted and the wearing of face masks in the city will be mandatory anew if there will be a surge of COVID-19 cases in Cebu City, as verified by the government.

Rama signed the EO on Monday during the city government’s flag ceremony.

Department of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge (OIC) Maria Rosario Vergeire on Wednesday said they were not consulted regarding the lifting of the mandatory face mask policy in Cebu City.

Vergeire stressed there will be a higher risk of infections in an area if the safeguards against COVID-19 are not in place.

The above article ended by stating that Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said they respect the mandate of the local government units (LGUs) over their respective jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, the Manila Times published an article regarding Cebu City’s move on loosening the face mask policy and the need for health experts to update the face mask policy. Posted below is an excerpt. Some parts in boldface…

CEBU City’s attempt to relax the rules on the wearing of face masks draws attention to an attribute needed in policymaking. That is, the crafting and tweaking of policies should keep pace with how quickly situations change. We remain firm in the belief that science, or more specifically medical expertise, should take the lead in devising the policies concerning Covid-19. But people struggle to understand why they take so long to adjust to developments.

Perhaps officials in Cebu have grown impatient with the national government, more specifically the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases. Last week, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama issued an executive order making the wearing of face masks in open spaces optional. But he later delayed the implementation of the order after talking to Secretary Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. of the Department of the Interior and Local Government. Abalos promised the mayor that he would bring up the need to review the health protocols with the task force.

Mr. Abalos sounded inclined to allow Mayor Rama’s executive order. The secretary said in a statement: “In fact, I am going to even further suggest to make Cebu City the pilot implementer of this measure since the city has always been first in espousing non-masking policies outdoors for the ease and benefit of its people amid the pandemic.”

The point in delaying the new order in Cebu seems to be about “harmonizing existing laws and policies” regarding the lingering pandemic. The problem is that the situation is not uniform across the country. Also, the Philippines has opened up its borders to tourists and foreign travelers, including those who come from countries where wearing face masks are no longer required. And doing so has not caused a spike in new or imported Covid-19 cases.

Indeed, a review of health protocols seems overdue. Earlier in June, Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn “Gwen” Garcia clashed with national health authorities when she issued an executive order that allowed people not to wear face masks in open areas, like beaches and mountain trails. Her decision seemed sensible then, and so does the similar order issued by Cebu City.

Perhaps, the national government should listen more to local officials. They should consider giving them more discretion in setting health guidelines for their respective areas of concern.

Let me end this piece by asking you readers: What is your reaction this latest series of developments? Do you think Cebu City’s approach on loosening the face mask policy within their jurisdiction makes sense? Do you believe that the national authorities – including the DOH itself – should listen more to the local government and provincial government leaders on how to deal with COVID-19 and implement health protocols? Do you think that the remaining restrictions are outdated and don’t make sense anymore? Do you think Cebu City’s move on loosening the face mask policy will succeed and inspire other LGUs – especially in Metro Manila – to follow suit? Do you think that the anti-vaccine fanatics and other anti-authoritarian activists will make moves to ruin the authorities’ moves on dealing with COVID-19?

You may answer in the comments below. If you prefer to answer privately, you may do so by sending me a direct message online.

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