MOST likely too late in the day for one more message of precaution as roughly 700 individuals mass gather for a Catholic rite for the 500th anniversary of the first baptism in Cebu at the Plaza Sugbo today, March 14, 2021. Some 300 public officials and parish representatives are expected; the rest will be choir members, servers, church staff and secretariat of the quincentenary celebration. Add to that 10 bishops, National Historical Commission of the Philippines Secretary Rene Escalante and the Papal Nuncio.
So 700, that is, in one occasion while Central Visayas has just been declared, by God’s grace, a Covid-19 low-risk area, in contrast to the seemingly uncontainable wildfire at the National Capital Region.
Today’s activity, we suppose, carries the lessons of December last year, during the Misa de Gallo novena, which allowed for a gathering of people in major churches in Cebu. A few weeks after that, the number of Covid positives surged, although thankfully, with the quick response of the Emergency Operations Center and other lead agencies, the increase was arrested and contained. Fortunately, last year’s efforts to set up isolation centers and deploy a fleet of contact tracers helped in no small way to manage the December 2021 misstep, if we could call it that, since physical attendance in the nine-day novena was later cut short.
Although there’s a long list of activities under the quincentenary program, some of which require physical pooling of people, today’s affair is of special interest, being the first test on how large crowds, some 700 specifically, can be controlled to avoid any chance of making it an infection super-spreader.
What are the measures in place? First, exclusivity, the general public can better watch it online or on TV. Attending officials from outside Cebu needed to have a swab test 72 hours earlier. The Plaza Sugbo accommodates around 3,000 persons, so the 700 attendees can be pretty much spaced for social distancing, a discipline that is almost unimaginable among politicians who, at any moment, are bound to fist-bump. Attendees must bring identification cards.
City Councilor and EOC deputy chief implementer Joel Garganera said they have been working with the Cebu Archhdiocese since last year, part of which intensely focused on the strict observance of health protocols for today’s activity.
Councilor Phillip Zafra, public order committee chair, said control points, manned by 400 policemen, are set up around the 300-meter radius of the Plaza Sugbo. To avoid the surge of vehicle traffic pre- and post-activity, parking are at the SM Seaside and Robinsons Galleria. Buses pick up 169 parishioners and ferry them to Compania Maritima.
Aside from the mass, two more activities follow. A reenactment of the first baptism takes place at the Magellan’s Cross at 2 p.m., and a cultural presentation at the Pilgrim Center at 7:30 p.m.
So we have roughly seven hours of continuous activity that leave attendees on their toes with strict health protocols. That’s seven hours of risk-taking, although we aren’t sure all the 700 supposed attendees will be present throughout. Still, that would leave a good number right to the end of the day.
We hope the police and those in charge to ensure attendees wear their mask and face shields properly, observe physical distancing and proper hygiene, will be impartial while they shepherd a flock of dignitaries and politicians to a safe and successful activity.
Otherwise, if we let this slip our hands and allow a super-spreader, we’ll be up to another seemingly 500 years of quarantine.