Marcos lifts COVID-19 public health emergency

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 22) — After over three years, the country is no longer under a state of public health emergency due to COVID-19, following a proclamation issued by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

The Presidential Communications Office (PCO) announced on Saturday that Marcos has issued Proclamation No. 297 which puts an end to the public health emergency first declared by former president Rodrigo Duterte in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

“While COVID-19 remains to be a serious concern for certain subpopulations and requires continued public health response, the country has maintained sufficient healthcare system capacity and low hospital bed utilization rates even after the liberalization of COVID-19 health protocols,” read the document signed on Friday, July 21.

“All prior orders, memoranda, and issuances that are effective only during the State of Public Health Emergency shall be deemed withdrawn, revoked or canceled and shall no longer be in effect,” it also stated.

Marcos declared, however, that all emergency use authorizations (EUAs) issued by the Food and Drug Administration shall remain valid for one year from the release of the proclamation “for the sole purpose of exhausting the remaining vaccines.” An executive order previously signed by Duterte stated that EUAs for coronavirus vaccines are only valid within the duration of the public health emergency.

The president also enjoined all government agencies to amend existing issuances or promulgate new ones to ensure that their policies take into consideration the lifting of the health status.

Following the president's proclamation, the Department of Health (DOH) said all established medical protocols are now lifted. This means that the policy on mandatory wearing of face masks inside medical facilities and in public transportation, as provided under Executive Order (EO) No. 7, is now considered "rescinded from a technical standpoint."

In October last year, Marcos issued the EO allowing the voluntary wearing of face mask indoors across the country, except when inside healthcare facilities, medical transport vehicles, and public transportation.

Latest data from the DOH showed the country has recorded over 4.17 million COVID-19 cases, of which 5,278 are active. Recoveries have reached 4.09 million, while the virus has killed at least 66,542 people nationwide.

In May, the World Health Organization declared the end of the global COVID-19 health emergency, citing the decreasing trend in coronavirus-related deaths and hospitalizations, and the high levels of population immunity.

Health Secretary Ted Herbosa earlier said COVID-19 vaccines will remain free only for poor Filipinos once the public health emergency is lifted in the country.

CNN Philippines is waiting for information from the DOH on when this will be implemented.

The government previously eased rules on the wearing of face masks, making it optional in indoor settings, except in healthcare facilities, medical transport vehicles, and public transportation.

Health officials, however, have repeatedly encouraged the vulnerable population to continue wearing face masks — particularly, the elderly, immunocompromised individuals and those with comorbidities, pregnant women, the unvaccinated and those with symptoms of Covid-19 infection.

In a statement, the DOH said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases will convene for a final meeting and release a comprehensive final report in light of Marcos' pronouncement.

The department also said Herbosa views the development “as a positive step forward and wholeheartedly agrees that the conditions no longer necessitate the continuation of the public health emergency status.”

“It is crucial to recognize that while the state of public health emergency is lifted, we must remain vigilant and proactive in our approach to health and safety,” the DOH added. "Continued awareness and adherence to recommended health protocols are paramount to safeguarding ourselves and our communities from any potential health risks."

With a report by Vince Ferreras