Nazarene feast may turn into ‘superspreader’ if . . .
MANILA, Philippines — Despite warnings to devotees by health authorities to steer clear of Quiapo Church in Manila on Saturday, the Feast of the Black Nazarene, to avert a widespread transmission of the new coronavirus, church officials are worried that many will still show up for the country’s largest religious event.
The Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) said devotees flocking to the church could turn the event into a “superspreader,” where a single infected person infects many others on contact, leading to unusually large clusters of cases.
“This can be a superspreader event because it will end up being a mass gathering, which is dangerous, especially since we’re still expecting a [postholiday] surge [in] cases,” Dr. Anna Ong-Lim of HPAAC said in a statement.
Millions of people usually join the traditional “traslacion,” a procession through a 6.5-kilometer route for the transfer of the life-size statue of the Black Nazarene from its original home where Rizal Park is now located to its present home at Quiapo Church, a minor basilica.
With the cancellation of the traslacion amid the threat of COVID-19, the Black Nazarene image was taken to different establishments and local churches in Metro Manila and nearby provinces to reach more devotees.
Masses in Quiapo Church
Msgr. Hernando Coronel, Quiapo Church rector and parish priest, said he was “still expecting an influx of devotees for the image viewing of the Black Nazarene,” which could put many at risk for infection.
On Saturday, 15 masses will be held in the church, which is allowed to accept 30 percent of its maximum capacity.
“If at all possible, please do not come anymore. Let us instead pray as one family in our own homes,” Coronel said in Filipino. The Department of Health (DOH) suggested that devotees follow the online Masses held hourly through the Quiapo Church’s Facebook page.
Health experts, including those from the DOH and the HPAAC, and officials of Quiapo Church issued a joint statement on Thursday, calling on the public to “refrain from physically visiting” the church amid the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is also concern over the new UK variant [of the coronavirus],” Lim said in Filipino. Initial studies of the variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom last September, points to it being potentially more infectious.
Celebrate at home
Coronel said the church was preparing for a potential influx of visitors in coordination with local officials, but he noted that these were merely “contingency measures.” He emphasized that the best way to celebrate the feast this year is safely, and at home.
For those who insist on going to the church physically, the DOH gave the following reminders:
• Ensure proper ventilation in the place of gathering
• Always observe physical distancing of at least 1 meter when going to public or crowded places
• Wear masks and face shields properly
• Keep visit short (not exceeding 15 minutes)
• Always wash or sanitize hands, especially after touching “high-touch” surfaces
• Follow health rules implemented by the church and the local government
• Cancel travel plans if any symptoms of COVID-19 are felt.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III reiterated his call for the public to follow minimum public health standards to prevent virus transmission.
EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental and health watchdog issued another reminder to devotees: do not leave trash behind.
“We hope that this year’s celebration held against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic … will adhere to the required health, as well as environmental rules,” said Jove Benosa, the group’s zero waste campaigner.
“As stewards of Mother Earth, we urge everyone, especially the devotees of the Black Nazarene, to take responsibility for ensuring that garbage will not again sully this celebration of faith,” he added.
Last year, at least 330 tons of garbage, mostly plastic packs, cups, bottles and polystyrene food containers, were collected in 68 dump trucks by the city government at Quirino Grandstand and along the traslacion route.
In 2019, more than 387 tons of trash were hauled by the Manila Department of Public Services.
The dismal situation has led to some groups urging the public to avoid yet another “trashlacion.” —WITH A REPORT FROM JHESSET O. ENANO
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