REPORTS of a "stampede" and "defiance of health protocols" greeted Cebu the day after the Saturday night, March 26, Arat Na Cebu concert. They "marred," a worn-out word in news headlines, the first major public event since Cebu City eased to Alert Level 1, which is apparently being depicted as the start of what Mayor Michael Rama has referred to as "liberation" from the pandemic.

Mayor Rama, in a press briefing Monday, March 28, repeated that the City is "open," along with the reopening of the economy, to major events, in entertainment or politics, provided organizers follow the law and the rules.

He sounded unfazed by (a) the incident of injuries at the concert site or (b) the Department of Health warning that the event could be a "super-spreader" of Covid-19.

'FULL CAPACITY.' Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera, chief of the city's Emergency Operations Center (EOC), told SunStar Explainer Sunday, March 27, that IATF guidelines already allow establishments and organizers of mass gatherings "full capacity." At the same time, he said, the EOC cannot monitor all activities and "we really rely on people to self-regulate." Main responsibility for the event, he said, should be on "the organizers and individual attendees."

Garganera saw the areas "where we must improve and we hope to regulate these events better and safer in the future." With the concerts and rallies the mayor said he'd allow, that would be a lot of work.

'RISE, MOVE FORWARD.' Mayor Rama, through City Hall publicist Cerwin Eviota, said "we saw our people's desire to go out and be free after two years of being caged ('dugay nang natangkal') by a pandemic... Our young people want it. We will give them and the young at heart more reasons to be the social being that we are." No other way now, Rama said, but to "Rise and Move Forward."

But for that, he called for "a shared responsibility, for the people to become a mature community," referring to the health regulations that must still be observed.

A STAMPEDE? IT WAS. Video clips that appeared in social media reportedly showed a stampede at the Natalio Bacalso Ave. entrance of the Cebu City Sports Center (CCSC). It was apparently caused by the crowd that wanted to get into the sports center but could not.

Police officials underplayed the injuries of individuals, calling them minor and keeping no running tally of the victims. There was no stampede, the city's deputy chief for operations, Lieutenant Colonel Wilbert Parilla, was quoted. People, after the long drought of entertainment in public space, were "just excited" and were pushing and shaving. Pushing and shaving alone wouldn't result in injuries.

There was a stampede all right; people "moved quickly in the same direction" because they all wanted to get in, frightened, even panicky. The video images showed a stampede. But obviously, it was not of the scale, not even close, to the PhilSports Arena tragedy that killed 73 people and injured 400 others last February 4, 2006.

WOWOWEE DISASTER. A similar, if smaller, example the Arat Na Cebu concert provided, as the PhilSports Arena tragedy did 15 years ago: too many people for not enough space.

To the Wowowee game show on ABS-CBN, the audience was driven by huge cash and other prizes; to the Arat Na concert last Saturday, by the free entertainment and the thrill of going out, after two years of recurring lockdowns and total ban on mass gatherings.

Recommendations from a study on the Wowowee debacle include the imperative of admitting only the number of people the venue can accommodate. The Philsports Arena could hold only 17,000 people while 30,000 people waited in line. Accurate estimates of venue and crowd, along with crowd control procedures and enforcement, are required to enable orderly and safe entry and exit of people.

What were the numbers in the Arat Na concert? Police touted 100,000 as the size of the crowd that gathered for the concert: 25,000 inside and 75,000 more on the streets near the venue. Apparently, they were able to control the number of admissions; so it must be in the flow of people where the failure set off the stampede.

'DOH WARNING,' a favorite word in warnings on mass-gathering activities, was used by DOH-7 chief pathologist Dr. Mary Jean-Loreche in declaring the Arat Na concert could be one. Widespread non-wearing of masks and rampant presence of unvaccinated people could set off another surge of Covid.

Loreches's warning would've produced some good before the event -- or not. Organizers and city officials would've done more and attendees would've been more careful -- or not. The alarm might have been just ignored.

The reason is City Hall's policy of total opening, full speed ahead that's apparent from the mayor's pronouncements ("no turning back to Jurassic life"), qualified only by the obligatory pitch for health protocols. Besides, who'd enjoy a concert with masked faces and inhibited movements?

Still, Councilor Garganera said his EOC will continue to "impose" wearing of masks, require events in open spaces, and encourage vaccination of concert-goers.

BLESSING ON MIKE, BARUG. The city's ruling party that supported the concert is fortunate the stampede caused only few injuries, on about a hundred people. But then no headcount has been officially made and only four were initially sent to a hospital.

It's a blessing because the backlash could've been a lot worse if the casualties were bigger and higher. As to the DOH warning, the repercussion is not over. Mayor Rama's and his party's good fortune will continue if no new surge will come, knock on wood.