Health expert: Elders, immunocompromised must still mask up even when mandate is lifted

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 18) — Certain individuals must still keep masking up even if authorities eventually stop requiring the wearing of face masks, according to an infectious diseases specialist.

"If ever we will remove the mask mandate, it should not be for all," Dr. Rontgene Solante told CNN Philippines’ New Day on Friday.

"It should be only for selected population and there are populations that will still be wearing the mask like the vulnerable: those elderly or those immunocompromised,” he said.

Solante, who is also a member of the government’s vaccine expert panel, added that face masks helped bring down the country’s COVID-19 infections along with inoculation efforts.

He said countries not requiring face masks also have very high vaccination rates and good healthcare facilities that could address any possible surges resulting from mask-free policies.

With this, Solante also warned against lifting the mask mandate soon given the number of gatherings amid election season which could lead to cases spiking again.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III earlier said the mask mandate won't be lifted anytime soon.

"Matagal pa po yan (That will take long)," he responded when asked about scrapping the policy.

The IATF has yet to discuss the matter with experts, Duque further explained on Thursday, stressing that the mandate's eventual removal should be done "gradually."

Meanwhile, Health Undersecretary and spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said last week that mask wearing will likely be the last mandate to be lifted in the Philippines. 

The government began requiring the wearing of face masks early into the pandemic in 2020.