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Philippine officials, governor clash over face mask policy


MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine officials warned Monday that people can face arrest if they defy a presidential order to wear face masks in public to protect against the coronavirus even in a province where the governor has declared they are optional.

Officials asked Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia of central Cebu province to cooperate with President Rodrigo Duterte’s order, but she insisted Monday that her decision to allow people to decide whether to wear masks in public in her province has legal grounds because provincial officials can decide on health issues.

“This is a major policy that came from the mouth of our president himself,” Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III said on state-run TV, adding that the country remains under a national public health emergency despite the easing of the outbreak.

Open defiance of such orders could lead to arrests, Densing said. He added that officials will try to convince Garcia to follow Duterte’s order.

COVID-19 infections have increased slightly in the past week, the Department of Health said Monday. But officials said most cases are not severe and the number has dropped sharply from the thousands of cases that were reported each day in the past.

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Duterte, whose six-year term ends June 30, presided over one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Southeast Asia in the early stages of the pandemic, but access to vaccines eventually helped control the health crisis.

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