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Marcos lifts COVID-19 state of public health emergency

President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. has lifted the State of Public Health Emergency throughout the Philippines due to COVID-19 through Proclamation No. 297.

"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orders, memoranda, and issuances that are effective only during the State of Public Health Emergency shall be deemed withdrawn, revoked or canceled and shall no longer be in effect," read the President’s proclamation.

Proclamation No. 297 was issued on Friday but was only made public through a statement from the Palace released on Saturday, July 22, 2023. 

"All EUA (emergency use authorization) issued by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) pursuant to Executive Order (EO) No. 121 (s. 2020) shall remain valid for a period of one year from the date of lifting of the State of Public of Public Health Emergency for the sole purposes of exhausting the remaining vaccines," it added. 

Marcos also enjoined all agencies to ensure that their policies take into consideration the lifting of the State of Public Health Emergency and to amend existing or promulgate new issuances, as may be appropriate.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte issued Proclamation No. 922, declaring a State of Public Health Emergency all over the country following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Proclamation 922 also stated that the public health emergency declaration would remain in force until lifted or withdrawn by the President.

The PCO said that the succeeding Executive Order No. 121 (s. 2020), which authorized the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue emergency use authorization (EUA) for COVID-19 vaccines, “shall be valid only within the duration of the declared public health emergency.”

The latest proclamation, meanwhile, also states that although 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.

Face mask

In a statement, the Department of Health said Secretary Ted Herbosa viewed Marcos' decision as a ''positive step forward'' since ''the conditions no longer necessitate the continuation of the public health emergency status.''

''All established medical protocols are henceforth lifted, with the exception of the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) pertaining to vaccines and the payment of outstanding dues for the Health Emergency Allowance,'' Herbosa said in a separate statement. 

''Consequently, the requirement for wearing masks [on] public transportation and [in] other settings as specified in EO 7 is now considered rescinded from a technical standpoint,'' Herbosa said.

The DOH said the Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) would convene for a final meeting to formally conclude the public health emergency, following which a comprehensive report would be prepared.

''This report will encapsulate the tireless efforts and dedication of the IATF, the medical frontliners, and the entire government in combating the challenges posed by the pandemic,'' it said.

In June, Herbosa said that he would recommend the lifting the country's COVID-19 state of public health emergency.

Herbosa stressed that COVID-19 no longer posed an emergency and could be treated as any other disease that the Department of Health (DOH) monitors, like influenza, cough, and cold.

Herbosa, however, said that the alert level system would remain.

“The alert level system will stay because that’s a system like the typhoon signal that stays. But actually hindi na siya (that’s no longer a) public health emergency. Wala nang (there’s no) public health emergency,” he added.

Last May, the International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted the decreasing trend in COVID-19 deaths, decline in COVID-19-related hospitalizations and intensive care unit admission, and the high levels of population immunity to SARS-CoV-2.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also concurred with the advice offered by the said committee regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and determined that COVID-9 is now an established and ongoing health issue, which no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and advised the transition to long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic.—Vince G. Lopez and Ted Cordero/VAL/VBL, GMA Integrated News