The Philippine government has relaxed quarantine restrictions in the capital and other areas under general community quarantine starting this week, allowing more people to attend religious services.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has also approved the reopening of cinemas, game arcades, museums, and other establishments.
Tourist areas, such as natural and theme parks and historical landmarks, are also allowed to resume business.
The holding of meetings, conferences and exhibitions, and limited social events in establishments accredited by the Department of Tourism will also be allowed.
The easing of quarantine restrictions and the reopening of business aim to help revive the country’s economy, which has taken a beating from the pandemic.
The new regulations take effect on Feb. 15, following the issuance of guidelines by the Department of Health and local government units.
Public religious gatherings are now allowed up to 50 percent capacity of the venue. Places of worship were previously allowed 30-percent capacity in areas under general community quarantine.
Father Jerome Secillano of the public affairs office of the Catholic bishops’ conference, however, warned the faithful not to be complacent.
“We urged the public to still exercise caution as COVID-19 hasn’t been extinguished yet from our midst,” said the priest.
“We are still not safe from this virus and its unpredictable nature makes it really a threat to everyone’s health,” he added.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, earlier called on the government to consider increasing the number of people who are allowed to attend church services.
The prelate made the appeal after a study revealed that there was no spike in COVID-19 cases in the Philippine capital after the Christmas holidays and even during last month’s feast of the Black Nazarene.
Most dioceses in the country are in areas under the more relaxed modified general community quarantine where churches can already hold services at 50 percent seating capacity.
Authorities said existing health and safety protocols will continue to apply during the observance of Ash Wednesday in the country on Feb. 17.
As a precaution, priests will only sprinkle ash on the head of devotees instead of the traditional marking of the cross on the forehead.
The Archdiocese of Manila also announced that the faithful can burn palm branches at home and use the ashes to sprinkle on family members on Ash Wednesday, the start of the Season of Lent.
On Feb. 13, the Philippines logged 1,960 additional coronavirus cases, increasing the country’s total tally to 547,255.
The Department of Health reported that 34,967 or 6.4 percent of the total cases are active.
The department recorded 133 additional survivors and 12 fatalities, bringing the total number of recoveries and deaths to 500,781 and 11,507, respectively.
To date, 44 patients of the more contagious coronavirus disease variant, or B.1.1.7, were reported in the country.