Duterte 'requires' local governments to buy, distribute face masks to residents

Duterte 'requires' local governments to buy, distribute face masks to residents
In a joint statement, the DOTr and DOH said only when drivers are alone in their vehicles may they be allowed to remove their face mask.
The STAR / Edd Gumban

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte ordered local chief executives to purchase and distribute free face masks within their respective localities while the national government waits for the arrival of coronavirus vaccines from foreign drugmakers.

Speaking at his weekly public address with members of his Cabinet on Wednesday night, the chief executive asserted the role of face masks in protecting Filipinos from coronavirus transmission. 

The Department of Health often makes the same reminder in its daily messages. It earlier said that face masks guarantee "about 60 to 70% protection" from the virus, while an added face shield and physical distancing bring the number up to 99%. 

"I'm not trying to pontificate, but in the meantime, it is better to follow the government and wear a mask. It can save you a lot of trouble and expense," Duterte said in mixed Filipino and English. 

"The problem is this. I leave it to the local chief executives. Governor, mayor, barangay captain ... The provincial government, and the municipal governments, and the city governments, I require you to buy and give it for free," he also said.

The president last year gave a similar order to government agencies, with the Palace saying the government planned to buy 20 million masks for distribution.

To recall, Duterte earlier Monday rejected calls from Metro Manila mayors and economic advisors to impose a nationwide modified general community quarantine, the loosest quarantine status, "unless there is a rollout of vaccines."

As it stands, many local governments in the country have signaled their intent to secure coronavirus jabs for their constituents ahead of the much-delayed rollout of the national vaccination program, for which there remains no definite or set date after government officials earlier promised end-February. 

According to the health department's latest case tally, exactly 566,420 coronavirus cases have been recorded in the country since the pathogen first emerged over a year ago. The Philippines has been in community quarantine for 345 days, good for the world's longest quarantine. 

Duterte, in his address, warned that he would personally deliver face masks and even vaccines — which the country has yet to even receive — to the localities of any chief executives who do not comply with the directive. 

"If you don't want to do that, then I will bring the vaccine to your areas. I will go to the city hall and I will give the...if you don't want to buy, then I will deliver. You give it to the people. You don't want to spend, then I will," he said.

 "I hope that does not happen. I hope we have an understanding here for this problem." — Franco Luna





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