The Department of Health (DOH) pleaded with the people who descended on Quiapo Church and its vicinity for the annual Feast of the Black Nazarene to go into self-quarantine and closely watch for any symptoms of Covid-19.
To prevent a superspreader event, officials cancelled the Jan 9 “traslacion”, a procession which draws hundreds of thousands of barefoot devotees who follow the image of the centuries-old statue of Jesus Christ carrying a cross on a float being pulled by rope for more than 20 hours through central Manila’s major streets from Rizal Park to Quiapo Church.
In a statement on Saturday, the DOH advised those who took part in the annual veneration of the Black Nazarene “to minimise interactions, especially with the vulnerable members of their households, and to conduct active self-monitoring for any symptoms”.
In lieu of the procession, church authorities scheduled 15 Masses starting before dawn on Saturday, but with only 400 people allowed inside the church each time.
Thousands outside followed the rites that were shown live on 12 large television screens around the church.
By noon on Saturday, at least 400,000 devotees had been to the church and its vicinity since Friday night, according to Manila police chief Brig-Gen Leo Francisco.
The religious event attracted the biggest crowds in Metro Manila since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.
The city government of Manila reported that 2.3 million devotees joined last year’s traslacion.
The police reported crowds in the vicinity of nearby San Sebastian Church, Santa Cruz Church and Nazarene Catholic School.
Several thousands of officers were deployed to ensure social distancing in the crowd.
This year, Manila’s Public Employment Service Office had set up booths around Quiapo to distribute masks to devotees for free.
Devotees were also asked to fill out contact tracing forms at various checkpoints around Quiapo Church, but some submitted theirs online.
The DOH said devotees who went to Quiapo and later showed symptoms of Covid-19 must immediately inform their Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams “for appropriate management and referral”.
It also urged local governments, especially in the National Capital Region, to coordinate with Quiapo Church to secure a list of devotees who went to Quiapo, and to actively monitor their constituents who participated in the event for early detection.
“We’re really going to need a miracle to stop a superspreader event in Quiapo right now, ” Dr Edsel Salvana, a member of the technical advisory group of the DOH, said in a tweet before noon on Saturday.
“Please don’t go (to Quiapo), ” said the molecular biologist and infectious diseases expert.
“Aren’t we supposed to watch out for each other?
“Putting others at risk is about as un-Christian as it gets. Let’s keep each other safe.”
His appeal on Twitter, which had over 1,000 likes and shares, did not reach the tens of thousands who ignored similar pleas from authorities to stay home.
The risk of catching the virus, which has infected nearly half a million people in the country, did not bother Marlene Ordiales, 58, who believed the Black Nazarene would protect her.
“I don’t mind the pandemic. I leave it up to God, ” Ordiales told AFP as she waited to enter the church. — Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN