LAST JUNE 17, Malacañang confirmed a “presidential policy” of President Duterte’s that face shields were no longer mandatory outdoors. Duterte’s decision was first made public by Senate President Vicente Sotto III a day before, saying that “the president agreed that face shields should only be used in hospitals.” This was later confirmed by Sen. Joel Villanueva, Health Undersecretary and Covid-19 treatment czar Leonardo Vega COMMA and Palace spokesman Harry Roque.

It was retracted, however, on June 22, as Duterte adhered to a request by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases to retain the face shield policy due to the Delta variant scare.

Also in June, new travel protocols for fully vaccinated persons started to take effect. Under the IATF’s Resolution No. 120 approved on June 10, fully vaccinated individuals were required to present their verified vaccination cards to a representative of the Bureau of Quarantine. This requirement was in addition to vaccination certificates issued by the Department of Information and Communications Technology or local government units, which basically just pose redundancy.

A new resolution, issued on July 4, listed new travel protocols with more complex rules that required only one of and not both vaccine cards and certificates. Fully vaccinated individuals were also not anymore required to present RT-PCR test results for interzonal movement.

Confusing, to say the least. The Covid-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 signed on Feb. 26, 2021, promised the issuance of digital Covid-19 vaccination cards—which would have helped the government prevent redundancy and shilly-shallying on protocols.

As of July 2021, these “standardized” vaccination cards have yet to be issued, and local government units were forced to adapt with their own styles of vaccination card systems.

As Makati Mayor Abby Binay complained, “It’s chaotic.” 

Her statement rings true, but not only for the issue of vaccination cards—it applies to the government’s communication system, which has been confusing since the start.

There’s no denying that health and travel protocols are imposed for a reason. However, there should be clear communication—not only between government officials but also in how the government issues its protocols to the public. 

Protocols also must make sense. The retention of the face-shield requirement, according to Duterte, was a “small inconvenience.” Does he not know how costly and much of a hassle face shields are? Does he not know that the Philippines is the only country in the world that requires face shields on top of face masks?

Poor communication adds fuel to the burning failure that is the government’s Covid-19 response. With the current vaccination rate, herd immunity would be achieved only by January 2023. It isn’t fair to compare apples to oranges, or monkeys to fishes. In that same regard, it’s also not fair to compare the progress of the Philippines’ vaccination to the progress of first-world countries like the United States or South Korea. But at this rate, it’s quite alarming to see how far back we are, nearing two years into the pandemic. Instead of being at the brink of recovery or in the process, we’re still deep into the pandemic and scrambling for a solution that should have been clear—an organized roll-out of vaccines.

Instead of squabbling amongst themselves over the implementation of the face shield policy or figuring out ways to impose more travel requirements, shouldn’t they set their sights on making sure vaccinations in the Philippines are at the best possible condition?

They should set their priorities straight. The government should invest its time in developing proper storage facilities for vaccines and ensuring that nothing will affect their effectiveness. It should make sure vaccines are used properly and distributed fairly. It should also pay medical frontliners proper compensation.

The threat of the Delta variant could revert the Philippines to square one. Instead of shilly-shallying, it should instead have a clear roadmap detailing how the spread of the Delta variant could be suppressed. The government should have clearly defined lockdown protocols and stop confusing people with a spate of vague community quarantine labels, policies without scientific basis and difficult-to-bear-with rules


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