Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco welcomes the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) to recommend to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. the optional wearing of face masks in open spaces, or non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation.
As announced by Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles in a press briefing on Wednesday (September 7), the IATF-EID has recommended “to liberalize our mask mandate and make mask-wearing outdoors voluntary across the country. It becomes optional in open areas or non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation, provided that senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals are highly encouraged to wear their masks, to continue wearing masks.”
“Nagprisinta and DOT na in certain states na nagluwag na tungkol sa face mask, tumaas ang tourism nila”, Secretary Angeles was quoted as saying by news reports.
A member of the IATF-EID, Secretary Frasco emphasized the urgent need for the national government to adapt to prevailing global practices, and to be at par with the country’s ASEAN neighbors in terms of entry processes and health and safety protocols in order to jumpstart tourism recovery in the Philippines.
“With the recent improvement of the global tourism landscape as a result of immunization, countries around the world have been instituting various measures such as the reopening of international borders, and relaxation of health and safety protocols and requirements, resulting in an immediate positive economic impact of these countries and faster recovery of their respective portfolios,” said Secretary Frasco.
Mask mandate in neighboring ASEAN countries
The tourism chief further noted that based on a comparative analysis of mask mandates, COVID-19 incidence, and tourist arrivals of the Top 5 ASEAN countries comprised of Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia, more liberal mask mandates did not appear to cause an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
“The Philippines is currently in a position wherein its existing entry and stay policies for tourists convey only a partial reopening of the country to international travel. For this reason, the Philippines is immediately at a grave disadvantage as a tourism destination vis-à-vis its neighboring ASEAN member states because the latter, which are the Philippines’ direct tourism competitors, have all lifted their mask mandates either totally or partially,” explained the Tourism Secretary.
The Tourism Secretary noted that aside from Singapore, other ASEAN countries 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.
“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,” said Secretary Frasco.
Mask mandate in key tourism markets
The Tourism Secretary said that aside from ASEAN countries, the Philippines’ key markets in Asia and other parts of the world have also started to liberalize mask mandates citing Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong as examples.
Certain countries in the Western Hemisphere, Secretary Frasco also noted, have also begun lifting mask mandates since 2021. This includes the United Kingdom in April 2021, the rest of the European Union (EU) in May 2021, and the United States of America (USA) in June 2021.
Mild COVID-19 cases and existence of successful local model
Secretary Frasco cited the province of Cebu as a model in liberalizing mask mandates. “After lifting mask mandates, especially outdoors, Cebu has maintained a relatively low increase in the number of reported COVID-19 cases, and has maintained its risk classification at low levels,” she explained.
It can be recalled that on June 8, 2022, an Executive Order (EO) was signed by Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia to rationalize the wearing of face masks in the province, requiring such “only in closed and/or air-conditioned spaces, and optional in well-ventilated areas and open spaces.”
A better chance for Philippine Tourism
Expressing optimism for the country’s tourism industry, Secretary Frasco said the liberalization of the mask mandate “will give the Philippine Tourism Industry a better chance to regain its vibrant and booming operations.”
“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 tourism economy,” she noted. (Department of Tourism-Philippines)