Social distancing violations could not be avoided, police say

MANILA. Catholic devotees raise images of the Black Nazarene as they are blessed with holy water outside the church in Quiapo, Manila, Philippines to celebrate its feast day on Saturday Jan. 9, 2021. (AP)

POLICE said the Feast of the Black Nazarene was peaceful, but hundreds of devotees at the Quiapo Church failed to observe physical distancing when a priest blessed the crowd with holy water on Saturday, January 9, 2021.

“Hindi lang po maiwasan na ‘yung violation ng minimum health standards at protocol ay medyo nava-violate po kaya naman sa ibang mga areas talagang sobrang nagdikit-dikit na,” said National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Director Vicente Danao Jr.

An estimated 300,000 devotees trooped to the Quiapo Church to attend the hourly masses, ignoring stay-at-home appeals issued earlier by officials.

Senior citizens, who are covered by stay-at-home restrictions, also insisted on going to church, posing another challenge to law enforcers.

Manila Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO) Director Arnel Angeles said many stubborn senior citizens lied about their age in order to attend mass in Quiapo.

"Ang mga kapulisan po natin medyo nahihirapan nga po silang awatin ang ating senior citizens. 'Pag tinanong po sila ay mababa sa 65 ang sinasabi nilang edad nila pero sa tingin naman po ng ating mga kapulisan ay mahigit 65 na po," Angeles said in a radio interview.

Persons under 15 years old and above 65 years old are prohibited from stepping out of their homes, except for essential purposes, based on the community quarantine guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Danao did not say whether police apprehended violators.

Maintaining a physical distance of at least one meter from each other is one of the minimum public health standards that the government has imposed in a bid to minimize the risk of transmission of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

Another requirement is the wearing of face masks and face shields.

Officials have cancelled the annual Traslacion, a religious procession of the image of the Black Nazarene from the Quirino Grandstand to the Quiapo Church, as part of precautionary measures against Covid-19.

The procession historically draws hundreds of thousands of devotees.

But hourly masses were held at the Quiapo Church and in other churches nearby.

Officials also allowed the viewing of the image of the Black Nazarene, which caused long queues of devotees wanting to pay tribute to their patron.

Police established control points in strategic areas to control the crowd and enforce the minimum public health standards.

Danao said it was a challenging task for the police to enforce the standards on top of maintaining peace and order and ensuring public safety.

Policemen were assisted by local government security forces as well as the Hijos Del Nazareno, who served as marshals for the event.

Health experts earlier warned that the fiesta could become a super spreader event. (Third Anne Peralta-Malonzo / SunStar Philippines)


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