The World Health Organization (WHO) said mandating the use of face shields again is still “premature” despite the threats of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron.
During the Laging Handa press briefing on Nov. 30, the WHO country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said they are not recommending for now reinstating the mandatory use of face shields.
He also noted that the COVID-19 virus is transmitted through close contact and not by air.
“This is why we emphasize that what is important is the physical distancing, the face masking, and hand hygiene,” Abeyasinghe said.
He added, “So, I think it will be premature now to go there and say we need to reintroduce face shields because we also know that there is significant public discontent on the mandatory use of face shields.”
Abeyasinghe said it is better for the public to comply with the existing minimum public health measures against COVID-19 while the mandatory face shields policy is still being studied.
"If we can ensure that people don’t congregate in closed settings, the requirement for face shields probably at this point of time is not mandatory because as I said, we are still looking at understanding the transmission dynamics of the Omicron variant," he said.
Just a few weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte approved the recommendation of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to ease the mandatory face shield rule, the task force is now eyeing to reinstate the face shield policy as an “added protection” against the virus.
During a meeting with President Duterte on Nov. 29, Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año said the face shield requirement was “not totally discarded” as part of the government’s COVID-19 response.
The government lifted on Nov. 15 the mandatory use of face shields in areas under Alert Levels 1 to 3. Wearing of face shields in those areas, which include Metro Manila under Alert Level 2, is voluntary.
Meanwhile in areas under Alert Level 4, it is the local government units’ discretion if they will impose the face shield requirement. And for those under Alert Level 5, wearing of face shields is mandatory.
Año said the policy would “possibly change” once the Omicron variant is detected in the country and new COVID-19 cases increase.
The DILG secretary also likened the use of face shields to using umbrellas during strong rains that can be set aside once the weather improves.
The Omicron variant, first detected in South Africa, was classified by the World Health Organization as a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26.
On Nov. 29, the WHO warned that the Omicron variant poses a "very high" risk globally. Scientists are reportedly working round the clock to analyze the variant and to understand its behavior.
Many countries are racing to try to contain it, including the Philippines, banning flights from South Africa and neighboring countries.
As of this writing, Omicron has also been detected in Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and North America.