SENATOR and Chair of the Senate Committee on Health Christopher “Bong” Go stated that while he respects the government’s decision to relax its regulations on the wearing of masks in public spaces, he continues to appeal to Filipinos to continue following health protocols and get vaccinated against COVID-19 including booster shots.
“I’m sure pinag-aralan po ito ng ating IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) headed by the Department of Health… It’s based on good science naman always. Every month, every week, pinag-aralan naman ng ating gobyerno ‘yan. Suportado ko po ito,” said Go in an ambush interview in the Senate on Monday, September 12.
“Ngunit bilang Committee Chair on Health, hinihikayat ko pa rin po ang ating mga kababayan na huwag maging kumpiyansa. Habang nandiyan si COVID, delikado pa rin po ang panahon. Wala naman sigurong mawawala sa atin kung susuotin po natin ang ating mga mask. Mas mahirap pong magkasakit, sa totoo lang po,” he added.
On Monday, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. signed Executive Order No. 3, which makes wearing of masks optional in open spaces, or non-crowded outdoor areas with good ventilation. Senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals, however, are highly encouraged to wear their masks.
“Bago po pipirmahan ng Malacañang ang EO, I’m sure pinag-aralan ito ng IATF, ng ating experts ‘yung pagluluwag po. Ako po naniniwala naman po ako sa kanilang desisyon na ito po ang makakabuti moving forward,” said Go.
“Kaya lang po, paalala ko lang sa mga kababayan natin, ‘wag pa rin pong maging kumpiyansa. Nasa atin naman ‘yan, nasa Pilipino naman ‘yan. Voluntary ang pagsusuot ng face mask, katulad ninyo nasa sa inyo naman ang desisyon kapag lumabas kayo at magsuot ng face mask para naman ito sa inyong proteksyon,” Go stressed further.
Secretary Benhur Abalos of the Department of the Interior and Local Government earlier noted that the Philippines and Myanmar are the last countries in the ASEAN to still mandate the use of masks outdoors. Abalos also noted that the lifting of mask mandates in other countries has not resulted in the rise of COVID-19 cases as long as the public continues to follow health protocols.
Meanwhile, Go stressed the need to intensify the information campaign on getting boosted with vaccines in order to persuade more Filipinos to receive their shots.
“Ang nangyayari kasi ngayon, kulang ‘yung information drive natin na ipaintindi sa mga kababayan natin na kulang pa rin, hindi pa sapat ang initial two doses,” said Go.
“Hindi naman po lahat ng mga kababayan natin ay (nakakapagtest) ng antibodies (laban sa COVID-19). ‘Yung iba nakapagpabooster… (Pero) yung ibang mga kababayan natin na hindi, nagiging kumpiyansa na po,” explained Go.
Go then reiterated his plea for the government to further offer incentives to individuals who have received all of their recommended vaccinations and booster doses in order to persuade more Filipinos, particularly those who are still hesitant, to get their COVID-19 shots.
“Kaya nga po dapat i-incentivize natin, bigyan natin, tayo po ang mag-adjust sa gobyerno. Hindi lang po ang national government, pati po LGUs (local government units), pwede bang suyurin n’yo po, dalhin n’yo po sa inyong mga barangay itong mga bakunang ito, kesa naman po ma-expire,” he said.
“‘Yung vaccination rate po natin, mataas ang first two doses. Pero itong booster, I think hindi pa nga po umabot ng 50% dahil kumpiyansa na po ang iba,” he added.
According to the EO, as of September 6, 72 million Filipinos, or 93% of the target population, are fully-vaccinated, while 18 million, or 23% of the target population, have received their booster doses.
Go then asked for the government to recalibrate its vaccination policy in order to boost vaccination rates in the country.
“Yes, baguhin po ang strategies natin dito para lalong ma-engganyo ang mga kababayan nating magpa-booster. Kapag nagbooster ka na mas protektado ka na sa laban sa COVID-19,” said Go.
The senator also urged health officials and other relevant agencies to step up their vaccination campaigns and make sure that the shots get to rural areas so that more Filipinos can receive their immunizations.
“Nananawagan ako sa ating health authorities, DOH (Department of Health), IATF na paigtingin pa ang ating pagpapabakuna, suyurin pong mabuti (ang buong bansa),” he said.