No mandatory masking amid new COVID-19 variant – DOH

Helen Flores, Mayen Jaymalin - The Philippine Star
No mandatory masking amid new COVID-19 variant � DOH
Face mask-clad pedestrians cross a road in Manila on September 12, 2022. The Philippines on September 12 lifted a requirement for masks to be worn outdoors, more than two years after imposing the ruling as part of health measures against the Covid-19 coronavirus.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — There is no need to reimpose mandatory masking and additional vaccination amid the rising cases of COVID-19 in Singapore, Health Secretary Ted Herbosa said yesterday.

Citing data from the Department of Health (DOH)’s Epidemiology Bureau, Herbosa said the Philippines has not recorded an increase in infections.

Singapore has reported an increase in the FLiRT COVID-19 strain, which was classified by the World Health Organization as a variant under monitoring and not a variant of concern, he added.

Asked whether the new strain could have entered the Philippines, Herbosa said, “It’s possible. Although the variant isn’t serious.”

He said the country needs a number of samples to do genetic testing.

“When the cases increase, then we will ask our Philippine Genome Center to again look at what variant is spreading,” he said.

“Luckily, even the one in Singapore is mostly respiratory tract infection – cough, common colds. So I’m not thinking border control, mandatory mask – I’m not thinking that,” the DOH chief said, adding Singaporeans’ waning immunity against the virus could have triggered the rise in cases.

“It’s nothing to worry about or maybe it will just die down from the activities there in Singapore,” he added.

Herbosa, however, advised the public to practice minimum public health standards such as avoiding crowded places.

“If you are sick, you have cough, colds, sore throat, better to stay home. If you need to go out, wear a mask. So it’s still personal,” he said.

“And then, there was a question to me about should we get vaccinated again because the Ministry of Health of Singapore was saying it might be waning effect of immunity. That should be a personal discussion between a physician and you, the one with a request for vaccination, because I think the ones that need a vaccination are only the high-risk people,” he said.

Herbosa said 78 million people in the Philippines were vaccinated and with boosters as well so they still have some level of immunity.

“The precaution is – you must be vaccinated at least or if you are at risk, probably I’d advise don’t travel there yet while they are having increasing number of new cases, but if you are healthy maybe a regular mask that you bring along to protect you will be good advice,” he said.


Alarmed by the rising cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) among the country’s younger individuals, Herbosa is pushing to make antiretroviral drugs (ARV) available in the private sector.

“Because now ARV is only available through PhilHealth (Philippine Health Insurance Corporation). You can’t buy it... Probably make it available in the private sector,” he said.

Herbosa cited the availability of tuberculosis drugs in private pharmacies.

“If there are no available medicines in the TB center, go to a pharmacy and if you have a prescription, you can buy it. You use your own money. These are things we’re thinking about,” he said.

The DOH is also looking at a program where minors with HIV could get antiretroviral treatment with a doctor or guardian’s consent.

The DOH secretary noted 55 new HIV cases are recorded daily in the country, the highest in the world.

“The scariest part is really the increase with the very young… Because they’re all young, exposure on the internet, freer gender choices,” he said.

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