COVID-19 task force OKs 50% capacity in churches in GCQ areas

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 12) — The country's COVID-19 task force has relaxed restrictions in places of worship in areas under general community quarantine, allowing them to fill up churches from 30% to 50% of their capacity.

Inter-Agency Task Force spokesperson Harry Roque on Friday said churches can accept more faithfuls starting Feb. 15.

Manila Apostolic Administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo is one of those who requested for an expanded church capacity. He noted that church services are needed today because it can help people cope with the pandemic.

In an interview with CNN Philippines' News Night, Msgr. Bernardo Pantin, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, said they welcome the IATF's decision, while also emphasizing the importance of church services to the people especially during this time of the pandemic.

He added that adjustments may now be made in church activities, like weddings and baptisms, while still making sure that health protocols are still being followed.

As for the upcoming Ash Wednesday on Feb. 17, Pantin said dry ash will still be sprinkled on top of the faithful’s head to prevent transmission of the COVID-19 virus. For those who would want to have this on their forehead, it is suggested that ministers use cotton for each individual, while sachets of ashes may also be distributed to those who cannot physically attend masses, he noted.

Infectious diseases expert Dr. Gene Solante said he supports the increase in allowed capacity for churches in GCQ areas, as long as health protocols are observed.

"Most of our churches have high ceiling and usually have big doors and windows. What is crucial here is the number of people that will be inside at that point of time and as long as they're implementing strictly physical distancing and wearing of face masks and face shields," Solante told CNN Philippines' The Final Word on Friday.

The IATF also allowed the operation of driving schools, cinemas, video arcades, museums, and the like in areas under GCQ.

Meanwhile, Pantin said church buildings can be used as additional vaccination sites, but this will still depend on the request of local government units.