These photos show a private firm distributing face masks in Manila

Copyright AFP 2017-2020. All rights reserved.

Two photos have been shared in multiple posts on Facebook which claim the Philippine government is giving out free face masks to the public following the novel coronavirus outbreak. These photos have been used in a misleading context; they show a private firm distributing free face masks to locals in Manila’s Chinatown, and while the Philippine government did once provide masks free of charge, it has since issued a statement discouraging its use.

The photos were published on Facebook here on February 1, 2020.

Below is a screenshot of the misleading post:

Screenshot of the Facebook post

The post’s traditional Chinese caption translates to English as: “The Philippine government is giving out masks for free! / Businesses are giving out free masks on the street! / #817breakdowncrying / #Go #GotothePhilippines”.

The photos were also shared on Facebook here, alongside a similar claim. 

These photos, however, are being used in a misleading context; they actually show a private firm distributing free face masks to locals in Manila’s Chinatown. The Philippine government did previously provide masks free of charge sporadically, but the Department of Health has since issued a statement discouraging the public from using them. 

AFP conducted several keyword searches to find this video on the Facebook page of the Philippine TV network ABS-CBN dated January 31, 2020, which match the photos being shared in the misleading posts.

Below is a screenshot of the ABS-CBN video:

Screenshot of the ABS-CBN video

The ABS-CBN video is captioned: “LOOK: An establishment in Ongpin gives away free surgical masks in Ongpin, Sta. Cruz, Manila, Friday. / It is owned by a Chinese who has lived in the Philippines for 10 years. #coronavirus #nCoV”.

Below is a screenshot comparison of a photo the misleading post (L) and the ABS-CBN video (R), with the distinctive identifiers – a woman in pink distributing the masks and purple and blue boxes – circled red by AFP:

Screenshot comparison of a photo the misleading post (L) and the ABS-CBN video (R)

Closer examination of the first photo in the misleading Facebook post showed the shop sign of a Korean restaurant reading “ONGPIN BRANCH”. Ongpin is the name of the central street that runs through Manila’s Chinatown, and the Google Street View imagery of the street appears to match the location shown in the photo, as seen in the screenshot below:

Screenshot of the Google Street View

The face mask giveaway in Manila’s Chinatown was also reported by other local media here.

Manila’s city government has previously distributed limited numbers of face masks to some schools, health centers and select districts in January 2020, according to government press releases published on its website here and here, and Twitter here

However, a representative from the city’s Public Information Office told AFP via SMS on February 18, 2020, that such projects have been halted.

He said: “So far there is no ongoing distribution because such activities have finished.”

The Philippine Department of Health has in fact issued numerous public advisories, such as this and this, discouraging the use of face masks.

Its latest guideline states, in part: “Use of surgical face masks is ONLY recommended for: a. Persons caring for the sick; b. Persons with respiratory infection/symptoms coughing, sneezing, and/or have fever; c. Healthcare and other frontline workers".

“People in good health do NOT need to use face masks.”

As of February 19, 2020, the death toll from the novel coronavirus outbreak has reached 2,000. More than 74,000 have been infected in mainland China alone, and hundreds of others overseas. Here is the latest AFP report on the ongoing viral epidemic.