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Forego Black Nazarene mass gatherings, President Duterte tells Roman Catholic Church

MANILA -- Insisting government function to protect public health, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte appealed to the Roman Catholic Church on Tuesday to refrain from organizing mass gatherings during the Feast of the Black Nazarene this month to contain the spread of COVID-19, particularly in Metro Manila.

“I apologize in advance and I beg your full understanding of what we have discussed every ‘Talk to the People.’ We have stressed that our job is really to come up with critical decisions to protect public health and public safety,” President Duterte said during his weekly public address.

“Kung nakinig ang Roman Catholic Church, I am now appealing to you to forgo and cancel all physical gatherings including the procession and the celebration of mass sa church because marami ‘yan sila.”

With the feast attracting millions of devotees, the President pointed out that the public cannot just be complacent about the transmission of the disease, as he expressed hope that the Roman Catholic would heed his appeal.

Dr. John Wong, an expert advising the government on the pandemic, made several recommendations to counter the holiday surge that the country is experiencing.

Wong, who said the current rise in cases appears to be triggered by the fast-spreading Omicron variant, suggested the need to administer the vaccination program efficiently by immunizing the segment of the population that will yield the greatest benefit and boosting those who are eligible.

These are people whose hospitalization can be prevented or whose lives may be saved by vaccination. They are the elderly, and other unvaccinated individuals.

The government, Wong said, should also focus on several superspreader events such as the Traslacion and the Sto. Niño fiesta this January, and the Chinese New Year celebration in February. These superspreaders can lead to higher surges.

“We have to be able to tell people to avoid these events. Sir, because of the very fast transmission of Omicron, we need widespread use of antigen tests. Even the cheaper ones are about P300 to P400. So people have to be able to access these,” he said.

“Then to preserve our health system, our hospitals, encourage home care of mild cases. There are also a couple of outpatient medicines that are available now for people at risk. This can be administered on an outpatient basis to prevent hospitalization.”

At the same time, he said there’s a need for a better communication to change the public’s behavior in terms of crowding, physical distancing, wearing of masks, and attending superspreader events.

The country logged 5,434 new COVID-19 cases as of January 4, with National Capital Region (NCR) recording 3,849 cases; Calabarzon, 868; Central Luzon, 339; and other regions, 378.

The Philippines has 29,809 total active cases and 2.7 million recoveries with 51,604 deaths, the Department of Health (DOH) reported.

The COVID-19 Omicron variant appears to be gaining a foothold, as evidenced by the country’s increased positivity rate, after it shot up to 14.1 percent from less than five percent weeks earlier. (PND)

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Kate Shiene Austria

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Information Officer III under the Creative and Production Services Division of the Philippine Information Agency. 

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