DOT: Tourism sector to benefit if masks no longer mandatory outdoors

The tourism industry would benefit from the proposal to liberalize the country’s COVID-19 mask mandate, the Department of Tourism said Friday.

DOT Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco welcomed the pandemic task force’s recommendation to make the wearing of masks in outdoor spaces optional, saying it would help uplift the Philippines’ tourism sector which was at a “grave disadvantage” given that other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries had more relaxed policies.

Aside from the ASEAN countries, Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong also had relaxed mask policies.

Frasco said aside from Singapore, other member-states saw a general increase in tourist arrivals, and except for Indonesia, a general decrease in the number of daily COVID-19 cases after mask mandates were liberalized.

“With the relatively low COVID-19 figures in the Philippines, and in order to significantly improve the country’s openness and attractiveness as a tourism destination, one that we desperately need in order to welcome economic recovery, it would certainly be beneficial to relax the mask mandate to be at par with the other countries in the ASEAN region, Asia, Europe, and North America so that we will no longer be left behind in terms of the revitalization of the tourism economy,” she said.

On Wednesday, Malaca?ang announced that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) had recommended that President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. make it optional to wear face masks in open spaces or non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation.

Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles clarified that the recommendation had yet to be adopted as a policy, but its implementation would be pilot tested towards the end of the year.

For its part, the Health Department said they would prefer it if the public kept using masks to ensure public health safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Frasco said that based on a comparative analysis of the mask mandates of Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia, the more liberalized rules did not appear to cause an uptick in coronavirus infections.

Similar scenarios could be observed in Cebu province, the Tourism chief added, saying the province “maintained a relatively low increase in the number of reported COVID-19 cases, and has maintained its risk classification at low levels” despite the relaxed mask policies.

“There seems to be no direct correlation between the lifting of mask mandates and the increase in COVID-19 cases, only that the lifting of the mask mandates has served to more than double the tourist arrivals in these countries,” she said.

Last June, Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia issued an executive order (EO) — which was later made into an ordinance — that made mask-wearing optional in well-ventilated and open spaces in the province.

Her order had been rejected by then Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo A?o, saying former President Rodrigo Duterte ordered them to keep enforcing the mandatory wearing of masks.

Early this month, the Cebu City government followed the governor’s directive and issued an executive order lifting the mandatory use of masks outdoors.

The said policy will be on trial until December 2022, and will be automatically lifted should there be a surge in COVID-19 infections in the city, according to Mayor Michael Rama.

Malca?ang previously said that it respected the mandate of local government units over their jurisdictions. — DVM, GMA News

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