Face mask now optional outdoors in Cebu province

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 9) — The wearing of face masks in well-ventilated and open spaces is no longer required in Cebu province, which is under COVID-19 Alert Level 2.

An executive order signed by Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia and made public on Thursday said face masks will only be mandated in closed and air-conditioned spaces, as well as among people manifesting COVID-19 symptoms.

“Persons who are unwell with symptoms of the COVID-19 such as fever, cough, or runny nose, are required to wear a mask at all times when they leave their homes,” read the document signed on June 8.

People are also highly encouraged to continue wearing masks in crowded outdoor areas, the provincial government said.

The new directive takes effect immediately.

Garcia said it is a "necessary step towards the new normal" as she pointed out that other countries, including Singapore, are now already implementing the same policy.

Cebu province is under Alert Level 2 until June 15, while most parts of the country, including Metro Manila, have been placed under the most lenient Alert Level 1 status.

The Cebu provincial government is the first local government to scrap the face mask rule, one of the primary health protocols set by national authorities to stem coronavirus transmission.

Sought for comment, the Department of Health (DOH) reiterated that face masks, along with vaccination and compliance with other minimum public health standards, have helped keep the pandemic situation in the country under control.

“Scientific evidence supports the use of best fitting face masks in reducing the transmission not only of COVID-19, but also other infectious and respiratory diseases including Monkeypox, should it reach our country,” it said in a statement.

The DOH further noted that protocols set by the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) state face masks may only be removed outside when eating or when taking part in sports and similar activities in well-ventilated venues.

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In April, President Rodrigo Duterte said he will see to it that the face mask requirement will continue to be in place under his administration.

Last year, Garcia also issued policies contrary to IATF protocols, particularly on returning Filipinos, although she later decided to follow the task force's rules on mandatory quarantine.

CNN Philippines digital producer Kristel Limpot and Cebu-based correspondent Dale Israel contributed to this report.