The Department of Health denied Wednesday that Metro Manila, where nearly 13 million people live, would bring back the mandatory use of anti-COVID masks following an uptick in coronavirus infections.
The DOH said a viral social media post on the supposed return of the mask mandate was “false.”
It also clarified that Metro Manila would remain under Alert Level 1, the lowest and most relaxed in the government’s COVID-19 alert level system (ALS), until April 30.
Earlier, DOH officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said they were not considering making face mask-wearing mandatory despite the recorded rise in COVID-19 cases.
She said the public should assess and know when to wear face masks especially when they belong to the A1 (senior citizens) and A3 (persons with comorbidities) populations.
“The ALS continues to provide guidance for every Filipino through the IATF recommendations sent to the Office of the President… so that each may equip themselves with better layers of protection against COVID-19,” the DOH said.
“The Department clarifies that the current Alert Level System is still being discussed through the IATF, and the DOH has previously recommended that these alert levels be similar to typhoon warnings and a guidance system in the future,” it added.
The DOH earlier clarified an April 14 resolution made by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), which listed 26 areas under Alert Level 2.
The said areas were not escalated from Alert Level 1, as they have been under the second alert level since June last year.
“While these areas have reached low risk classifications for cases and utilization rates, these have vaccination rates lower than 70 percent of the target total and population,” the DOH said in a statement on Sunday.
“Also, no province or city has been escalated to alert level 2 from alert level 1 since January 2023,” it added.
While it was approved on April 14, the IATF-EID resolution was only published on the government’s Official Gazette eight days later.
The Health Department advised the public to be mindful of information being shared on social media, particularly on the COVID-19 alert level status of several areas in the Philippines.
It urged the public to obtain information from reputable sources such as its official platforms, other national government agencies and institutions, and known news outlets.
In the past week, the Philippines saw a 32-percent increase in the daily average of coronavirus infections.
As of April 25, the country has 4,255 active COVID-19 cases, the DOH’s COVID-19 Tracker showed.
Of some 4 million infections logged since the start of the pandemic, 66,444 led to death.
In related developments, the World Health Organization has yet to confirm “sticky eyes” or conjunctivitis as a symptom of the XBB.1.1.6 Omicron or Arcturus subvariant, the DOH said Wednesday.
“In general, COVID-19 exhibits flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, fatigue, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, headache, body pain, and diarrhea, among others,” the DOH said in a Viber message to reporters.
Other symptoms may vary from case to case aside from the known flu-like symptoms, the DOH said.
“Studies are continuously ongoing of what effects the virus may entail. What is important is that cases remain manageable,” it said.
On Tuesday, the DOH logged the country’s first case of XBB.1.1.6 Omicron subvariant in its latest surveillance report.
The case is from Iloilo province and was asymptomatic and was already recovered.
Along with it, the DOH detected 85 additional variants of COVID-19.
Of the tally, about 39 were identified as XBB subvariant (14 were XBB.1.9.1, 13 were XBB.1.5, one was the XBB.1.16, the rest were other XBB sublineages).
Twenty-eight cases were identified as BA.2.3.20; 12 cases were BA.5, and three cases belonged to XBC.
The remaining cases belonged to “other Omicron sublineages.”
The XBB subvariant remains the most dominant strain nationwide with 1,861 cases recorded to date. It is followed by the XBC with a total of 764 cases.
The DOH advised the public to consult a physician or to head to the nearest health facility for proper diagnosis of symptoms.