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An official of the Department of Health (DOH) said residents of Metro Manila do not need to wear N95 face masks yet.

She said that while there is a need for residents living within the 14-kilometer radius of Taal Volcano to wear N95 masks and other protective gear, Metro Manila residents don’t necessarily need to follow suit.

DOH Assistant Secretary Maria Francia Laxamana said the N95 mask is prescribed to be used by residents living in Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Quezon and other areas badly affected by Taal Volcano’s eruption.

“We don’t need to use the N95 mask here in Metro Manila. Let’s give them to residents in Batangas and Cavite,” Laxamana said in a press briefing in Malacanang.

Laxamana lamented that because Metro Manila residents started panic-buying N95 masks, there were few supplies left for residents who really needed them.

“Nagkulang talaga sa market na dapat nabigay natin doon sa (There was really a shortage in the market when we should have given it to those in) Batangas and Cavite because these areas, the areas that really need the N95,” Laxamana said.

Instead of the N95 mask, she encouraged Metro Manila to use regular surgical masks or improvise using “moist” handkerchiefs, towels, or any item of clothing to prevent the inhalation of ashes.

Besides the efforts to augment N95 masks, the DOH also continues to deploy health workers, disseminate health advisories, prepare medicines, and other logistics needed by evacuees, she said.

The DOH has also prepared PHP2.1 million worth of logistic commodities coming from the central and regional health offices to respond to their needs.

Currently, the DOH and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) are regulating the pricing of N95 masks following reports that they were being sold for PHP200 up from the previous PHP20 to PHP30.

Businesses and individuals taking advantage of the urgent need for N95 masks by jacking up their prices will be penalized.

The Consumer Act's Section 52 bans Unfair or Unconscionable Sales Act or Practice, and prohibits sellers from exploiting buyers based on "physical or mental infirmity, ignorance, illiteracy, lack of time or the general conditions of the environment or surroundings."

Violators will be fined from PHP500 to PHP10,000 or be imprisoned from five months to one year.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who is scheduled to visit areas in Batangas affected by Taal Volcano’s eruption on Tuesday afternoon, said the government will be providing free N95 masks to those who could not afford them.

“For those who cannot afford it, we will give it free,” Duterte said in a media interview on Monday.

Exposure to volcanic ash and gases may lead to nose and throat irritation, coughing, bronchitis-like illness, discomfort while breathing, eye irritation, and minor skin problems.

Those experiencing these symptoms were advised to seek immediate medical attention.

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