Don’t forget health protocols, faithful told as Simbang Gabi begins

Don't forget health protocols, faithful told as Simbang Gabi begins
In this photo taken in December 2019, devotees attend the first anticipated Simbang Gabi at the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila.

MANILA, Philippines — The health department has told Filipino Catholics to strictly follow health standards as the country's well-known tradition of Simbang Gabi begins Tuesday night.

Philippine bishops have issued guidelines on holding pre-dawn Masses early this month, as the coronavirus pandemic continues and as government braces for a post-holiday surge in infections.

"We cannot overemphasize the need to follow the minimum health protocols at all times," the agency in a statement. "Gatherings like Simbang Gabi can easily become superspreader events."

The DOH said it has seen "a reversal in the downward trend" of COVID-19 infections, which in simpler terms, would mean that cases are indeed likely to go up.

In the previous days, the OCTA research team, an independent panel of experts releasing its coronavirus forecasts, has said too that Metro Manila now has a 1.06 reproduction rate or the number of individuals that would contract the disease from an infected person.

Health officials are urging Filipinos to opt for livestreaming Masses instead of physically attending to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus.

Those who would attend Mass in person, meanwhile, were told to follow the one-meter physical distance, proper wearing of face masks and shields, as well as limiting the time in going out.

Churches and other venues for the Mass should also ensure proper ventilation.

"Avoid high-risk activities such as those conducted in enclosed spaces or areas with poor ventilation, activities like singing and shouting, and other forms that might involve physical contact," the DOH added.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines has allowed for the evening Masses to start as early as 6 p.m., while the Masses at dawn could begin by 6 a.m.

It also sought to remind that kissing or touching of images remains prohibited, recognizing that celebrating Christmas in the predominantly Catholic country will be different this year.

"These adjustments are done because of the great number of mass-goers during the Simbang Gabi, and the limitations in the number of mass-goers due to the strict social distancing demanded by the IATF as a safety protocol in the prevention of the spread of the virus," the CBCP said.

Churches across the country have found ways to thrive amid the ongoing health crisis, streaming liturgical celebrations on social media such as in renowned sites Manila Cathedral, Quiapo Church, the Redemptorists' Baclaran Church as well as the Dominicans' Santo Domingo in Quezon City.

TV Maria of the Manila archdiocese, has begun its live broadcast of Masses tonight, 4:30 a.m. at Wednesday dawn, and the succeeding Masses at 5:30 a.m. and 7:15 p.m.

Public worship had been restricted mid-March as the country entered the hard lockdowns that stretched on for months, only to be allowed again in July at 10% capacity in areas under general community quarantine.

Those in Metro Manila were allowed to resume in-person religious gatherings by September, and the capacity inside churches had since been increased to 30%, while places under modified GCQ at 50%.

Philippine coronavirus infections stood at 451,839 on December 15, with deaths now at 8,812 and recoveries at 418,867. The OCTA research team has projected that cases may reach 480,000 by end of 2020, putting it still as the second highest in Southeast Asia.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: December 15, 2020 – 12:19pm

Other regions and provinces in the Philippines considered moderate and low-risk areas will be placed under general community quarantine starting May 1. Bookmark this page for updates. (Main image by The STAR/Edd Gumban)

December 15, 2020 – 12:19pm

The Inter-agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Disease has approved putting Isabela province under General Community Quarantine, BusinessWorld's Gillian Cortez reports quoting the Palace.

Palace Spokesperson Harry Roque said the IATF-EID approved the imposition of a General Community Quarantine until Dec. 31 in Isabela. Isabela was formerly under an MGCQ. Santiago City in Isabela will be exempted from the GCQ. @bworldph

— Gillian Cortez (@gmcortez_) December 15, 2020

Isabela will be under GCQ from the less stringent Modified General Community Quarantine until December 31. Santiago City will remain under MGCQ.

December 13, 2020 – 4:03pm

Total coronavirus cases in the Philippines climb to 449,400 with the addition of 1,085 newly reported cases Sunday.

The total of recovered patients also jump to to 418,687 with 9,269 new mass recoveries. The country's death toll is at 8,733 with 3 new reported deaths.

Total active cases in the country stand at 21,980.

December 10, 2020 – 4:11pm

The Department of Health reports an additional 1,383 COVID-19 cases in the country, raising the national tally to 445,540.

The DOH also logs 133 new recoveries and 24 new deaths, bringing the total of recovered patients to 409,058 and the death toll to 8,701.

Total active cases in the Philippines now stand at 27,781.

December 9, 2020 – 4:05pm

The Department of Health reports an additional 1,387 COVID-19 cases in the country, raising the national tally to 444,164.

The DOH also logs 156 new recoveries and 7 new deaths, bringing the total of recovered patients to 408,942 and the death toll to 8,677.

Total active cases in the Philippines now stand at 26,545.

December 9, 2020 – 1:13pm

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez has tested positive for COVID-19, he tells reporters.

Lopez, who says he is asymptomatic and in isolation, says he tested positive on Monday.

The trade department and the rest of the government has been promoting opening up the economy amid a continuing community quarantine across the Philippines.

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