No to cinemas, but yes to churches

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    ‘And yet the mayors are appealing the easing of restrictions in cinemas while they are silent on the similar policy on churches and religious gatherings.’

    THE Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has issued a directive — presumably without much consultation with local officials — that the national government is easing restrictions in the services and operations of cinemas, churches, libraries, museums, internet cafes and online gaming arcades.

    Movie houses will be allowed to operate subject to strict health protocols such as 50 percent seating capacity, use of face shields and face masks, social distancing, etc. The same regulations apply to churches, religious gatherings, and gaming arcades.

    The mayors of the National Capital Region who compose the policy-making Metro Manila Council, and the Metro Manila Development Authority are one in saying that they will appeal to the IATF to withdraw the order on cinemas for fear of more COVID-19 infections in the localities. Since March 2020 when the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 was already a pandemic, the NCR which tops all cities in the world in population density (46,000 people per square kilometer) has been the ground zero of the epidemic. No wonder the National Capital Region has the longest-running, continuous community quarantine in the country.

    Parañaque Mayor Edwin Olivares, head of the MMC, said there was “no proper consultation in the specifics such as the cinemas, where people congregate for more than an hour.”

    MMDA Chairman Benhur Abalos said the mayors and the Authority have no issues in reopening other public places like arcades, libraries and museums, but they request for a more “gradual” approach with regard to movie houses.

    These officials are correct in taking the more conservative policy, in the wake of the reality that the government’s mass vaccination program has not yet started and even the importation of these vaccines are encountering some problems.

    It is interesting to point out, however, that the threat of the coronavirus 2019 and its variants from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa is not confined to the entertainment-seeking fans who want to watch movies. The real threat also extends to the faith-seeking fans who want to listen to the sermon during mass.

    And yet the mayors are appealing the easing of restrictions in cinemas while they are silent on the similar policy on churches and religious gatherings.

    Already, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, has asked the IATF to consider increasing church capacity during services. These priests in Metro Manila successfully lobbied and have received an increase in attendance capacity of from 30 percent to 50 percent. Give them a hand and they will want to take the whole arm. And this despite the fact that the COVID-19 tally still hovers in the vicinity of 1,900 to 2,000 a day.

    We do not want to believe that the mayors of Metro Manila are more concerned about the entertainment-seeking citizens than the sermon-seeking constituents. Or are they thinking that on the day the IATF released the news about restriction easing, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) also announced that the one-week filing of certificates of candidacy for all positions in the 2022 elections begins on October 1 this year, which is seven-and-a-half months away?

    Just asking.