PBBM agrees to make indoor face mask use voluntary to boost tourism–Frasco

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco

The government is set to implement another wave of easing of its pandemic-related protocols, including making the wearing of face masks indoors voluntary, in an effort to further boost foreign tourist arrivals in the country.

It made the announcement days after the Department of Health (DOH) detected the presence of the Omicron subvariants XBB and XBC in the country.

During Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has decided he will come out with a new executive order (EO) to also relax the mask-wearing mandate indoors.

Last month, Marcos already issued EO No. 3, which made it voluntary to wear face masks outdoors.

“As a result of the Cabinet meeting this morning it was agreed that the President would be issuing an executive order for the IATF [Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases] recommendation to make indoor mask wearing also voluntary all over the Philippines,” Tourism Secretary Ma. Esperanza Christina Garcia Frasco said in a news conference in Malacañang.

The new EO, however, will not apply to public transportation, medical transportation and in medical facilities.

Frasco said the mask wearing would also still be highly encouraged for unvaccinated individuals, persons with comorbidities as well as senior citizens.

Minimal impact

Despite the further easing of mask wearing mandate, Frasco said they do not expect it will translate to a surge in novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases.

In fact, she said Covid-19 cases decreased even after Marcos allowed the voluntary wearing of face masks outdoors last month.

“We have seen that since September, there has been a decrease in Covid-19 cases by 2.8 percent, and up to 22 October 2022, there has been a decrease of 22.74 percent in positive cases,” Frasco said.

“This supports the empirical data that we had previously presented, vis-à-vis our Asean neighbors. Wherein the lifting of the mask mandate in no way led to any surges in the majority of these countries,” she added.

As to the risks posed by the new policy with the detection of the new XBB and XBC Omicron subvariants in the country, Frasco said, the DOH is already implementing measures to stop any spread through aggressive vaccination and booster drives.

Health officials attributed the XBB to the surge of Covid-19 cases in Singapore, while the characteristics of the XBC subvariant are still under investigation.

Less travel requirements

TO further make it more convenient for foreign travelers to visit the country, Frasco said the government would also be replacing the One Health Pass (OHP) with the eArrival Card System.

The eArrival Card, which only contains half of the 20 questions under the OHP, will contain the personal information, health declaration, and vaccination details of the arriving passenger.

Also to be scrapped is the reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing requirement for passengers bound to the Philippines.

“As far as unvaccinated foreigners are concerned, they would henceforth be allowed entry into the Philippines with only the requirement of presenting an antigen test 24 hours taken before departure or an option of taking an antigen test upon arrival into the Philippines,” Frasco said.

Competitive destination

The tourism chief said the measures are aimed to boost the country’s competitiveness as a tourism destination.

“Generally the direction of the Marcos administration is to lift the remainder of travel restrictions into the Philippines and that includes easing of our mask mandates to allow our country to be at par with our Asean neighbors who have long liberalized their mask mandates,” Frasco said.

She noted the country remains a top tourist destination abroad as shown by their recent record-breaking tourist arrival figures and sales.

“This is actually well-reflected in our tourist arrivals which have now reached 1,827,603 arrivals as of today. Notably, this exceeds the previous projections of the Department of Tourism, before June 30, which pegged international arrivals only at 1.7 million by December of 2022,” Frasco said.

DOT was also able to register over P173 million worth of sales and leads from its recently concluded Philippine Travel Exchange.

“This far exceeds previous sales in that the highest sales achieved was in 2018 at 94.8 million and in 2019 sales were pegged at 46 million,” Frasco said.

Image credits: DOT/Facebook


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