MANILA (UPDATE) - Manila Mayor Isko Moreno on Tuesday announced that the city would be closing cemeteries from October 31 to November 3 to prevent the possible spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Simula ngayon hanggang October 30 maari kayong bumisita na. Ang punto po, ngayon pa lamang nakabisita kayo sa inyong mahal sa buhay,” said Moreno in a Facebook live post.
(From now until October 30, you can go visit. The point is as early as now, you can go and visit your departed loved ones.)
The order is in his recently signed Executive Order No. 38, with the dates covering days of traditional annual visits to cemeteries, which draw millions.
"Pasensiya na po kayo, ito ay isa sa mga epekto ng tinatawag na new normal. Bibigyan ko naman kayo ng pagkakataon kung sakali naman patuloy na bumuti ang sitwasyon natin sa pandemyang ito, ibig sabihin wala nang kaso ng coronavirus sa lungsod ng Maynila pagdating ng October 31, akin pong babawiin itong Executive Order na ito," the mayor said.
(Please bear with us but this is an effect of the new normal. I will give you a change and in case the situation gets better in this pandemic, meaning if there would be no more COVID-19 cases in Manila by October 31, then I will rescind this executive order.)
The temporary closure covers all public and private memorial parks, cemeteries and columbaries in the city.
At the North Cemetery alone where there are 105,837 grave sites, Moreno estimates that around 1.5 million visitors from the city, other parts of Metro Manila, and even the provinces visit their departed loved ones annually. It is one of the country's largest and oldest cemeteries.
Moreno said the South Cemetery, meanwhile, has 39,228 grave sites and is visited by around 800,000 visitors during annual peak dates between October 31 and November 3.
"Isang magiging hamon sa pamahalaang lokal, nasyonal at sa ating mga kababayan 'yung physical distancing na mangyayari kung saan sa partikular na panahon sabay-sabay na bubuhos ang tao sa North Cemetery at South Cemetery," he said.
(Observing physical distancing is going to be a big challenge for the local and national government and even to the public, where in a particular period, people will converge in both the North and South cemeteries.)
Under the mayor’s executive order, only “interment and cremation services for non-COVID-19 cases shall be allowed subject to the strict observance of minimum public health standards and social distancing” during the closure period.
Moreno sought understanding from the public, saying the order is aimed at preventing the spread of the highly infectious disease.
The Philippines has recorded over 241,000 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, with Metro Manila still the epicenter.