Face shields a hindrance to economic recovery: Inquirer contributor

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN): After a year into the longest lockdown in the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippines is still on its way to flattening the third surge of active cases while struggling to revive its economy.

Local industries including real estate are yet to see significant improvements in business activity, operations, and revenue as sectors still finetune processes in the new normal.

Since December last year, the government has mandated the public to always wear face shields - an additional plastic barrier worn over masks - in public spaces.

Beyond its ecological implications of adding more single-use plastic into our oceans and landfills, policymakers argued the case of Singapore, where face shields are considered "adequate basic protection" by the country's health ministry.

Locally, doctors from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital already expressed their opposition to this move.

The premier state university hospital claimed that this protective gear is designed to "provide protection from splashes of biological fluid, " leaving out the very essence of preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Health undersecretary and physician Leopoldo Vega also campaigned for the removal of face shields outdoors as a mandatory requirement, as the viral transmission is low in well-ventilated spaces.

The requirement was also not supported or endorsed by international health organisations and mental health advocates.

A study shows that wearing face coverings can cause anxiety, panic, and can affect the quality of air adults and even children breathe.

At odds with the promotion of outdoor or fitness activities, the World Health Organisation does not encourage the wearing of face masks during exercise as it makes breathing difficult and sweat can only spur the growth of microorganisms.

The use of face shields has also posed a greater hazard to the country's bikers, which only led to their eventual exemption from the rule.

A closer look would suggest that better protection comes from putting the budget of a face shield into purchasing N95 or KN95 masks, which offer better viral protection.

This would be particularly helpful in public transportation or while shopping at grocery stores.

Manila Mayor Francisco "Isko" Domagoso Moreno has similarly challenged this additional measure.

The mayor argued that it only adds to the burden on the public and must be amended to make it strictly for hospital use. He urged health experts to conduct a more extensive study on the effectiveness of wearing face shields in public.

Face shield usage in the Philippines has also posed serious drawbacks to the real estate industry.

Retail became one of the hardest-hit sectors as consumption has remained low due to health anxiety and the public's aversion to crowds. Malls have been emptied as tenants vacate spaces and mallgoers stay at home.

Even during the slight reopening of the economy this year, many were still discouraged from spending time outdoors given all the serious inconveniences posed by safety measures upon entering establishments.

The consequences experienced by the retail and the food and beverage industries have been quite significant.

In a Mosaic Analytics study, a significant drop of at least 50 percent in cumulative revenue was seen for the F&B sector in 2020.

Despite a recorded 12.91 per cent increase in revenue for 2021, that is still no match to pre-pandemic revenues.

The mandate to wear a face shield before walking into a restaurant, to then sit down and take it entirely off, is comedic at best and downright discouraging at worst.

The F&B mandated policy of "No Face Shield, No Mask, No Entry" is equivalent to "No Business."

It's a policy that has only encouraged patrons to eat in smaller cramped quarters with their friends and families, often without the necessary ventilation that reduces Covid-19 spread.

The data is consistent with what major retail developers and the Philippine Retailers Association have been saying: that the sector will still be "soft" this year despite an expected 10 per cent improvement from 2020.

As the National Capital Region and several other provinces transition back to general community quarantine, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases said it is reviewing the requirement on the use of face shields in outdoor spaces.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed that the agency is also drafting a more consolidated guideline for implementation, after President Duterte declared that face shields should only be required in hospitals and health care facilities.

The call for a clearer, more definite policy on this issue stands, especially after presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced that the face shield requirement was here to stay due to the Delta variants of the Covid-19 virus.

Dropping the face shield requirement is crucial to boosting business activities that can then push the economy forward, boost tourism, get families back into the malls, and help businesses that are trying to get their employees back into offices. - Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

* The writer is managing director of KMC Savills, Inc, a real estate services and brokerage firm in the Philippines.

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