You might want to dust off those face shields.
As the threat of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 looms, the Philippine government is once again floating the idea of imposing face shield mandates once the new variant enters the country.
The certain prospect was announced by Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo AÃ±o, who also warned that higher alert levels will be reinstated in affected areas.
“With the policy na naging voluntary siya at Alert Level 2 po ang buong Pilipinas, except isang probinsiyang nasa Alert Level 3, pero nakita natin na bumaba rin naman ‘yung numbers,” AÃ±o said during the Talk to the People briefing on Monday, November 29. “But of course, kapag pumasok ‘yung Omicron at tumaas ‘yung alert level, i-i-impose ulit natin (face shield mandates).”
This comes after the remarks made by National Task Force Against COVID-19 chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez proposed the re-implementation of the face shield policy to exhaust any available means of protections against the novel coronavirus variant.
However, both the Department of Health (DOH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) lean towards the contrary. According to Dr. Alethea de Guzman, Director of the Epidemiology Bureau of the DOH, there is still no need to bring back the mandatory use of face shields, at least not as of the moment when the COVID-19 transmission level in the country remains low.
“As transmission goes down, we really need to open sectors, but also in a safe manner. Right now, the face mask will be able to provide us that benefit or protection,” said De Guzman said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.
She also looked to private establishments to decide whether or not to impose face shield requirements: “’Yung paggamit siguro na i-mandate na naman ang face shield, we’re actually leaving that to private establishments… But right now, there is no need at this very low transmission level na idagdag natin ‘yung face shield.”
Meanwhile, WHO Country Representative Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe echoed the same sentiment, adding that the coronavirus is transmitted not by air, but through close contact.
“If we can ensure that those minimal requirements, those minimal public health measures are complied, we can ensure that people don’t congregate in closed settings, the requirement for face shields, probably at this point of time is not mandatory,” said Abeyasinghe. “Because as I said, we are still looking and understanding the transmission dynamics of the Omicron variant.”
Currently, wearing a face shield is voluntary in areas under Alert Levels 1, 2, and 3, with the prerogative to require the contraption placed upon private establishments.
The COVID-19 Omicron variant
First discovered in South Africa, the COVID-19 Omicron variant has now been detected in Australia, Botswana, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom.
While very little as known about the variant of concern as of the moment — including whether it is more contagious, causes more severe disease, and whether it could evade vaccines — scientists are concerned over the variant’s unusually high number of mutations, which could make the virus more transmissible.
Art Daniella Sison