EXPLAINER: 2 major changes in CQ rules: more church-goers allowed in Cebu City; Capitol uses WeTrace app to monitor commuters.

THE attention-drawing changes of the Covid-19 rules concern (one) a departure from old IATF guidelines on religious activities in Cebu City and (two) the use of modern technology in monitoring people who cross borders to work in the island province of Cebu.

Religious activities

MORE ATTENDEES. The first concerns the decision of City Mayor Edgardo Labella to allow churches to increase mass attendance starting last Sunday, August 9.

Omnibus guidelines for quarantines that were issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) set a specific maximum number of people allowed to gather en masse. Under the general quarantine (GCQ) enforced in Cebu City, mass gathering, which includes religious activities such as church masses and other rituals, shall not be attended by more than 10 people.

Mayor Labella, in Executive Order #86-B of August 9, 2020, has increased the number of attendees up to 10 percent of the seating capacity of the church or chapel or any other venue, or up to 10 people, whichever number is higher.

BISHOP'S CRITICISM. Earlier, a Roman Catholic bishop in Manila criticized the IATF rule for being unrealistic, pointing out that most churches are large and can accommodate hundreds of people. The rule in effect tells us they don't want us to gather, said the bishop.

The size of most churches allows physical distancing of 1.5 meters to 2 meters between two churchgoers. And the other health protocols can be enforced as well. Mayor Labella had talked with local church leaders about such measures as requiring face masks inside the church and modifying the procedure on communion and other sacraments. High officials of the clergy had also relayed to IATF its proposals to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The 10 percent attendance, which is tied to the church's seating capacity, is much smaller than some church leaders expected. The more reasonable standard should have been the number of persons the church capacity would allow, using the required distance between persons. The new rule is thus "a very small concession," a priest who asked not to be named told SunStar.

WTP for commuters

WETRACE APP. Governor Gwen Garcia's EO #20-C requires residents of Cebu province who work in Cebu City, and vice versa, to apply for a work travel pass, which uses their mobile phones through the WeTrace app, to cross borders. Town and city governments within the province approve or reject the application. The WTP has been required since August 12 but processing continues.

The province has been under modified general quarantine or MGCQ since June 29. Commuters to and from Cebu City -- under GCQ since August 1 and ECQ for 15 days before that -- are presumed to be sources of infection to province residents until their individual WTP gives a clean bill of health.

THE KINKS. Initial kinks were caused by people who (one) didn't have a mobile device, or (two) were uncomfortably ignorant about the use of a smart phone, or (3) distrusted the app, which they feared might intrude into their privacy or steal private information from them. (People behind the app have denied it.)

Applicants who didn't have smart phones were told to coordinate with their respective LGUs to help in their application. And "probinsyanos" who merely pass through Cebu City to get to another town or city within the province are no longer required to secure a WTP. Adjustments were made to meet the problems as they arose.

PRESUMED REGULAR, LAWFUL. The requirement for the app may not be in IATF guidelines yet and it is not certain if Capitol has obtained prior approval of the national task force.

But, until the guideline is scrapped by the national authority unilaterally or on complaint, the LGU's rule stays and is presumed to be regular and lawful.


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