DEPARTMENT of Health (DOH) officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said on Thursday, October 27, 2022, that Covid-19 cases in the country may increase to up to 18,000 per day by the end of the year if the mask mandate will be lifted indoors.

In a television interview, Vergeire said the spike of coronavirus infections toward December was one of the potential scenarios they presented during the recent Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) meeting, which resulted in an agreement to make the wearing of face masks indoors optional.

She said the position of the DOH was to implement the optional mask mandate in indoor areas “slowly,” with pilot implementation in areas with high booster vaccination coverage and healthcare system capability, including Metro Manila. It was, however, overruled as other sectors insisted to have it immediately implemented nationwide.

“This is a collegial body and we respect the decision of the IATF. Ang sa akin lang naman po, we were able to compromise and have that agreement na kapag health facilities public transport, we still require the mask,” said Vergeire.

(This is a collegial body and we respect the decision of the IATF. As for me, we were able to compromise and have that agreement that when health facilities are public transport, we still require the mask.)

“And ‘yung unified messaging that we will be continuously advocating with our citizens na in spite of this voluntary nature, dapat alam nila ‘yung risk nila (they should know the risks involved), this will be an informed decision for all that they will know when to remove the mask and they will know when they have to wear the mask,” she added.

The highest daily tally of Covid-19 cases in the country over the past month (September 26 to October 26) was at 3,822, which was on October 1.

The number of new cases per day dipped to 943 on October 25.

The projected 18,000 cases per day toward December is already almost equivalent to the new cases over the past 11 days, which was at 17,730.

The country reached a peak of over 33,000 Covid-19 cases per day in January 2022 due to the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant.

But Vergeire maintained that there were also other factors that may cause the possible increase in cases, such as the increased mobility of the people and the refusal of others to get booster shots amid the presence of highly transmissible variants in the country.

The DOH has so far detected 294 cases of XBC Covid-19 subvariants in 11 regions and 193 cases of XBB in two regions. These two subvariants reportedly have higher transmissibility as compared to the other Covid-19 variants. They also have the tendency to evade immunity.

Vergeire noted that what is important is to protect the vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly and persons with comorbidities, and to ensure that the healthcare system will not be overwhelmed by the increase in cases.

Vergeire said restrictions will be heightened if the healthcare utilization reaches more than 50 percent.

She reiterated that preventing the increase of Covid-19 cases is a shared responsibility.

In September, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. issued an executive order making the wearing of face masks optional in open, well-ventilated and non-crowded areas.

On Tuesday, October 25, Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco said Marcos will soon issue another order lifting the mandatory use of face masks indoors except in public transportation and medical transportation and facilities.

Frasco said unvaccinated individuals, elderly and persons with co-morbidities are still encouraged to continue to wear face masks in public areas.

She said this is to “allow the country to convey an openness and readiness to the world to receive tourists and investments so that we would give our fellow Filipinos an opportunity to regain all the livelihood and losses that were incurred during the pandemic.”

Several doctors have expressed opposition in lifting the mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors, noting that the country is not yet ready for it and that it may result in an overwhelming situation in the hospitals. (SunStar Philippines)