(UPDATE) A HEALTH expert on Wednesday maintained that using face masks was the only effective option available to the government in dealing with the threat of Arcturus XBB.1.16, a subvariant of Omicron.
“The DoH (Department of Health) should not turn a blind eye to the fact that mandatory face masks are the only option we have given the low booster rate that we have to open the economy,” Dr. Tony Leachon told The Manila Times via Viber.
“People need definitive solutions. We can’t control mobility. But we can wear face masks conveniently to protect the people,” he added.
Leachon was responding to the comments of DoH Officer in Charge Ma. Rosario Vergeire that stringent measures that include mandatory masking were not yet needed amid the increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in the Philippines.
On Tuesday, the Health department reported the first case of Arcturus XBB.1.16 in Iloilo.
Leachon, in a previous interview with The Times, said the strain that originated from India produces flu-like symptoms like fever, cough and sore throat, as well as conjunctivitis or sore eyes.
The DoH, meanwhile, said the World Health Organization had yet to confirm the symptoms of XBB.1.16, noting vaccination remains the best defense against severe Covid-19.
Leachon advised the public to remain vigilant.
“Complacency hurts or even kills, especially in vulnerable patients. Perhaps the mild symptoms and low hospitalization rate may not be compelling reasons, but a sick workforce might affect productivity in the long run. The quality of life of people will be affected. Long Covid patients will be another problem moving forward,” he said.
Leachon added President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should discuss the issue of bivalent Covid-19 vaccines when he meets with US President Joe Biden in Washington.
“We need the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to approve the certificate of product registration so those willing to be vaccinated with this new vaccine will have access to it like in the USA. The bivalent vaccines will be able to address the old Wuhan strain and the new subvariants,” he said.
During the week of April 17 to 23, the DoH reported a 32-percent increase in Covid-19 cases or the equivalent of 450 cases per day.
OCTA Research fellow Dr. Guido David said the positivity rate in the National Capital Region (NCR) this week is 11.4 percent.
Leachon warned that the NCR positivity rate could still increase if the public would not adhere to minimum public health standards, which includes masking.
Meanwhile, the DoH cautioned the public to be mindful of information being shared on social media after a post on the possibility of the country returning to Alert Level 1 circulated.
The DoH said that possible new measures were still being discussed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
It added that local government units have the jurisdiction to require certain health protocols in their communities through a local ordinance, as they deemed needed.
Vergeire earlier said the government had no plan to reinstate the masking mandate amid the rising cases of Covid-19.
“Every one of us has the right to know what our risks are so that we will know if we would wear our masks or not,” she said.