MANILA — Iloilo 1st District Representative Janette Garin has called on the Department of Health (DoH) to immediately preposition antiviral medicines for COVID-19 as the Philippines relaxes face mask protocol.

Garin made the statement in light of the recent recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to make optional the wearing of face masks in open spaces or non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation.

While everybody is already experiencing pandemic fatigue and favors voluntary wearing of face masks, Garin said the such policy should be faced with immense readiness as this may cause the rise of Covid cases anew.

“We need to take this with a grain of salt. With the lifting of the mask mandate, it is imperative that the Department of Health preposition antivirals so that the burden of health expenditure for moderate and severe cases will not be passed on to the people,” said Garin.

Garin is among the lawmakers who pushed for the optional mask policy provided that the booster rate reaches 70 percent.

Based on DoH data, roughly 17 million, or only 21.76 % have booster shots, this number is relatively low as compared to those who have received the primary series vaccine or the first two required vaccination which stands at 72 million or 92.31% of Filipinos.

“It is a fact that the definition of a fully vaccinated person has been compromised by the Delta and Omicron variants. Waning immunity or the protection from the original shots has begun to decline,” said Garin.

She reiterated that wearing face mask have been found effective against virus transmission, saying this has also been proven during the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome(SARS) in 2003.

In a study conducted by the Microbiology Department of the  University of Hongkong published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases Medical journal in 2020, the coronavirus’ transmission rate via respiratory droplets or airborne particles dropped by as much as 75% when surgical masks were used.

In the said experiment using hamsters as test animals as they have similar enzyme receptors to humans, researchers found that 66.7% of healthy hamsters were infected with the virus within a week without a mask barrier but when the mask was placed over the infected cage, the infection rate dropped to 16.7%.

The strongest result in that said experiment was that the hamsters who were still infected despite having the mask barrier also had less of the virus in their bodies compared to those infected without the masks.  

Giving credence to numerous studies on the effectiveness of wearing face masks, Garin advised the public that it’s still better to continuously wear masks or until the country’s booster vaccine rate improves.

“Put on masks, they actually protect other people especially when masks are worn by an infected asymptomatic individual,” Garin said. (ai/mtvn)

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