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Mask-free PH? Marcos to allow voluntary use of face mask indoors; ease travel restrictions

By SAAB LARIOSA Published Oct 25, 2022 5:52 pm

President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. is set to sign an executive order (EO) allowing the voluntary use of face masks indoors with exceptions.

"As a result of the Cabinet meeting this morning, it was agreed that the President will be issuing an executive order, per the IATF recommendation, to make indoor mask wearing also voluntary all over the Philippines, with few exceptions," Department of Tourism Sec. Christina Frasco said during a Malacañang press briefing on Oct. 25. 

Mask-wearing in public transportation and medical settings is still required. Unvaccinated individuals, senior citizens, and those with comorbidities are also still "highly encouraged" to wear face masks.

The EO comes after a month the president declared the voluntary use of face masks for outdoor settings.

The idea of allowing the removal of face masks indoors was floated last September, with DOH's Maria Rosario Vergeire saying that pilot studies had to be done.

"Eto pong indoor masking, pag-aaralan pa po patuloy ng IATF kasama ng mga experto. Gagawa po tayo ng pilot study on this so we can determine kung kakayanin na po ng ating health sector ang pag-lilift ng indoor masking by the end of the year," she said at the time.

Meanwhile, Frasco said that the decision was made for the country to be "at par" with fellow ASEAN countries that have eased mask protocols, such as Indonesia, and Singapore, among others.

"Generally, the direction of the Marcos administration is to lift the remainder of travel restrictions into the Philippines, and that includes easing of our mask mandates to allow our country to be at par with our Asean neighbors [which] have long liberalized the mask mandates," she added.

Travel restriction updates

Along with the loosening of mask restrictions, the administration also seeks to remove RT-PCR testing as a pre-departure requirement.

Unvaccinated foreigners would then have to present a negative antigen test at least 24 hours before their departure or take an antigen test upon arriving in the Philippines.

The newly-minted eArrival card will also not be made mandatory for arrival in the Philippines, as "special lanes" will be provided for tourists who have yet to acquire the new electronic arrival card that replaced the One Health Pass.

"In other words, you can fill out the eArrival card at your own convenience prior to the departure or upon the arrival," Frasco said.

Temporary registration for the eArrival card can be found here.