Gov’t appeals to suspend masses, large gatherings amid COVID surge

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
Gov�t appeals to suspend masses, large gatherings amid COVID surge
Photo taken on Jan 9, 2020, shows devotees standing outside Quiapo Church during the first fiesta mass, signaling the start of Traslacion 2021.
Released / Manila Public Information Office

MANILA, Philippines — The government is asking the public to suspend mass gatherings in light of a new surge in coronavirus infections which health authorities are assuming to be driven by the more infectious Omicron variant.

"We are appealing to suspend for now all mass gatherings, including the upcoming observance of the Traslacion," Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in Filipino during a televised Cabinet briefing with President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Traslacion is an annual procession for devotees of the Black Nazarene and has been scaled down since the pandemic hit in 2020.

"Let us choose to participate in this from our homes instead to avoid getting infected and transmitting the disease," Duque continued.

President Rodrigo Duterte likewise appealed to the Catholic Church in the Philippines to suspend activities related to the Traslacion and all masses.

"I am now appealing to you to forego and cancel all physical gatherings including the procession and the celebration of mass in the church," Duterte said. "There are millions of devotees there. And you cannot just be complacent about the transmission of the disease."

Under Alert Level 3, religious gatherings are allowed at 30% capacity for indoor venues and at 50% capacity outdoors.

Traslacion already suspended

The Traslacion is the annual procession of the Black Nazarene held on January 9, which draws millions of devotees who believe that the image of a dark-skinned Christ carrying a cross is miraculous.

The Manila City government already announced in November that there will be no Traslacion for the second consecutive year due to the threat of the pandemic.

Instead of a grand procession, the Manila City government said that it will hold a motorcade in select areas of the capital.

Before the pandemic, the procession that commemorates the transfer of the Black Nazarene from Intramuros, Manila to Quiapo in 1767 usually took place from the Quirino Grandstand to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, also known as Quiapo Church.

This year, it is planned that the Quiapo Church would hold 15 masses, with only 400 participants allowed for each mass.

Last year, however, the celebration still drew 400,000 people.

‘Superspreader events’

In the same Cabinet briefing with Duterte, epidemiologist John Wong identified other potential "superspreader events" which should also be cancelled, including the feast of the Santo Niño and Chinese New Year.

"This crowding, close contact and maybe even unmasked can lead to higher surges," Wong said. "We have to be able to tell people to avoid these events."

"We have to look at these three superspreader events that are coming up and negotiate with the authorities to cancel them," he added.

Aside from the suspension of mass gatherings, Duque urged for a return to alternative work arrangements instead of reporting physically to work.

Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite and Rizal are under Alert Level 3 until January 15, where many businesses are operating at a lower capacity.

The Philippines has seen a dramatic rise in new COVID-19 cases in the past week, coming from 19-month lows to new two-month highs.

Just this Tuesday, the country recorded 5,434 new infections — the highest single-day tally since October 23, when 5,807 cases were reported.

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