Palace says face shield policy will remain unless WHO says otherwise

This undated photo shows passengers at a public transportation wearing face masks and face shields, which have been made mandatory as a preventive measure in the Philippines against the COVID-19. Philstar.com photo by Michael Varcas

THE Philippines will keep its mandatory requirement of wearing a face shield outdoors unless the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a different policy, Malacañang said Thursday, September 2.

“Sa ngayon po, wala (As of now, there is none),” said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque when asked if the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has plans to scrap the face shield requirement.

“Pero (But) I understand that even the WHO will render an expert opinion on whether or not the use of face shields is justified, so antayin po natin ang opinyon ng (let’s wait for the opinion of) WHO,” he added.

On Tuesday, August 31, WHO representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe said that they would look into the country’s experience in requiring the use of face shields.

“The face shields are being used to reduce the likelihood of infection through the eyes. That’s not actually [an] additional layer, although it actually boosts the protection provided by poor mask wearing practices,” he said during a press briefing.

However, in a separate statement issued by the Philippine Department of Health (DOH), the WHO official clarified his statement saying: “Face shields may reduce the likelihood of infection through protection of the eyes and provide an additional layer of protection for those who are not wearing their masks properly.”

Abeyasinghe noted that the Philippines is among the few countries that require the use of face shields.

“At this point in time we have been looking at the Philippine experience. The Philippines is one of few countries that advocates the wearing of face shields in addition to masks,” he said.

“It’s interesting that we have also been able to sort of delay the speed at which the Delta variant is spreading and we don’t know whether the face shields are a contributory factor. So, while we are understanding all of these issues, it’s best to look for evidence and make decisions based on that,” he added.

In December 2020, the Philippines began requiring individuals to wear a face shield outdoors.

Not tied to corruption

On Thursday, Roque also maintained that the face shield requirement is not linked to corruption.

“Wala pong relasyon ‘yan. Ang pagsusuot po ng face shields, nakikita niyo naman sa ating presidential press briefings, ay sang-ayon po sa mga opinyon ng eksperto (It has no relation. The use of face shields, as you can see from our presidential press briefings, is in accordance with the opinion of experts),” he said.

His statement came amid suspicions that the government may be profiting from the sale of face shields.

Earlier, the country’s Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the DOH’s transfer of P41 billion to the Procurement Service of the Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) as it lacked the required memorandum of agreement (MOA) and supporting documents.

A huge portion of the amount transferred was used to procure face masks and face shields worth P27.72 and P120 each, respectively, which have been considered by senators as “overpriced.”

However, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte himself ruled out corruption, saying that the medical supplies were purchased at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak which explained the prices.

“I want to make it on record to the public and everybody that I and the Cabinet knew about it. Sabi ko (I said) go ahead and buy the things you need. Pandemic nga eh. Sabi ko emergency ito. Emergency hanggang ngayon (We are in a pandemic. I said this is an emergency and the emergency persists up to the present time),” he said in a taped speech on August 21.

“Just to disabuse the mind of some people about corruption, it ain’t here at this time. I suppose that you are barking at the wrong person,” he added.

Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at ritchel.mendiola@asianjournalinc.com.

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