Philippines to make mask wearing indoors voluntary, ease travel curbs

A foreign passenger, wearing a face mask at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila, on Feb 10, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - The Philippines is further relaxing its pandemic protocols, with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr set to sign an executive order scrapping the indoor mask-wearing mandate in most places.

Travel restrictions for tourists will also be eased.

Mr Marcos decided to adopt the recommendation of the government’s inter-agency pandemic task force during his meeting with his Cabinet officials on Tuesday, according to Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco.

The President lifted the mandate on compulsory mask wearing outdoors in September.

Certain individuals are still highly encouraged to wear their face masks in public places, including the unvaccinated, people with underlying health conditions, and senior citizens.

Ms Frasco said the Philippines is lifting its mask mandates to be on a par with its South-east Asian neighbours such as Singapore and Malaysia, which have also made mask wearing indoors and outdoors optional.

Unvaccinated foreigners who wish to enter the Philippines will now be required to present just a negative antigen test. They may take the test within 24 hours before their departure or upon their arrival in the Philippines.

Unvaccinated tourists were earlier required to present a negative RT-PCR test.

From Nov 1, the One Health Pass for arriving travellers will also be replaced with the Electronic Arrival Card, which would make it easier for individuals, since they will be filling out less information on the card.

Ms Frasco said this signals the Philippines’ openness and readiness to accept foreign tourists and investments. Foreign tourist arrivals in the South-east Asian country have reached 1.77 million, as at Oct 19.

The Philippines, however, is further easing its pandemic rules a week after announcing that it has detected the presence of the highly transmissible XBB Omicron sub-variant and XBC recombinant.

Ms Frasco defended the decision, saying the Department of Health (DOH) is currently “very aggressive” in its Covid-19 vaccination and booster campaign. As at Tuesday, DOH data showed the Philippines has vaccinated only 73.48 million out of its 109 million population. The country currently has 22,850 active Covid-19 cases.

“In the end, we simply cannot go on in a pandemic perspective because we have to give our country an opportunity to thrive, while maintaining health protocols on one hand, and safeguarding and protecting livelihood and the economy on the other,” said Ms Frasco. “It is not a mutually exclusive exercise”.

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