No need to alter protocols on Ash Wednesday

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A TOP Palace official doesn’t seem to find any reason for the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to alter health protocols as the predominantly Catholic population braces for the observance of Ash Wednesday next week.

For Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, nothing really significantly changed in terms of the health and safety protocols since last year, adding that the prevailing protocol remains focused on one goal — preventing transmission.

“Kung ano iyong ginagawa natin noon, hopefully, tingin ko, iyon pa rin ang maging protocols ngayon,” said Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles.

The Catholics are expected to flock to churches on February 17 to have their foreheads marked with crosses in the form of ash from blessed palm leaves mixed with water. Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, a 40-day season embarking on prayer, fasting, and abstinence.

Interestingly, the observance of Ash Wednesday last year had clergymen sprinkling dry dust on worshipers to keep wider distance and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

He, however, underscored the need for government officials to meet with Church leaders to finalize this year’s protocol.

“Baka kailangan mapag-usapan muli kasi kumbaga, wala namang nagbago in terms of the health and safety protocols since last year. Iniiwasan pa rin natin na magkahawaan, ‘di po ba? At hindi pa naman fully vaccinated iyong buong population. So kumbaga, the same rule should apply this year,” he said.

Churches in areas under modified general community quarantine, the least stringent of four lockdown levels, are allowed to fill up 50 percent of their seating capacity. In areas under GCQ, the third strictest level, churches can accommodate up to 30 percent, said Nograles.

Predominantly Catholic, the Philippines is celebrating the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in the country this year.

The Philippines has tallied some 540,000 coronavirus infections, among the highest in Asia. The country is set to launch its COVID-19 vaccination drive this month, though still behind but close to some of its regional peers. 

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