Nazarene feast in Philippines could turn into ‘superspreader’

A devotee holds a image of Black Nazarene while attending outside of the Quiapo Church in Manila. Only 6,000 people or 400 person per mass are allowed inside the church on the day of the Feast of the Black Nazarene to maintain the health protocols during COVID19 pandemic.- INQUIRER

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN): Despite warnings to devotees by health authorities to steer clear of Quiapo Church in Manila on Saturday (Jan 9), 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-kilometre 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.

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 per cent 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.

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 emphasised that the best way to celebrate the feast this year is safely, and at home. - Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

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