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Philippines

Philippine diocese halts Masses as Manila lockdown returns

Restrictions reimposed to combat rising Covid-19 cases, give health workers 'time to breathe'

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Philippine diocese halts Masses as Manila lockdown returns

Police stop a motorist at a checkpoint as they conduct identity checks during a new round of Covid-19 lockdown measures in Manila on Aug. 4. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)

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A Manila bishop has canceled all Masses and liturgical celebrations in 44 parishes involving 1.4 million churchgoers following an “alarming” and “sustained” increase of Covid-19 cases in the Philippines. 

Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao said most cases were in capital Manila where businesses have resumed operations.

“The total infected is about to breach the 100,000 mark and experts are forecasting even more dismal numbers in the months to come. The health system is creaking at a critical stage, with hospital beds for coronavirus patients running out,” said Bishop Ongtioco in a pastoral letter on Aug. 2.

The prelate said his decision was in line with a government directive for Manila and nearby provinces to revert back to stricter quarantine protocols starting Aug. 3.

President Rodrigo Duterte has placed Manila back into “modified enhanced community quarantine” (MECQ), canceling public transport and requiring businesses to operate with only 50 percent of their workforce.

Medical health workers also called for a “time out” due to fatigue and lack of hospital beds.

“I have heard of different groups from the medical community asking for a two-week ECQ [enhanced community quarantine] in Mega Manila. I fully understand why your health workers would like to ask for such a time out,” Duterte said on national television.

Bishop Ongtioco said health workers deserved rest, which can only happen by restricting people’s movements to contain the spread of the virus.

“What is even more concerning is the urgent appeal by medical frontliners for a time out. Exhausted, overwhelmed by a steady deluge of the sick, and sometimes even taken ill themselves, they remain dedicated to their task,” Bishop Ongtioco said.

He praised doctors and hospital workers for not giving up the fight against coronavirus despite overwhelming numbers of infected people.

“They are not throwing in the towel or cowering from their task. They want a break to get their bearings back, to breathe and to energize for the burgeoning task ahead,” Bishop Ongtioco added.

He said suspending public liturgical celebrations in parishes would help allow health workers to rest and breathe.

“We will allow our frontliners to breathe, our government to assess and proactively respond to the situation, our Church to evaluate how we can better help our brothers and sisters who are suffering in this situation,” Bishop Ongtioco said in the pastoral letter.

The Philippine government allowed religious gatherings to resume in May provided churches did not exceed 30 percent of capacity, while churchgoers had to observe physical distancing.

With stricter protocols in place, Cubao churchgoers are expected to access services in their parishes online.

“I pray that all of you keep open minds, open hearts and open hands at this crucial time. Your understanding, compassion and generosity are key in helping us overcome these challenges and alleviate our people’s suffering,” Bishop Ongtioco said.

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