11-year-olds and below banned
MANILA (UPDATE) - The Manila Bay dolomite beach will be closed every Friday for maintenance works, and on Oct. 29 to Nov. 3 in accordance with the inter-agency task force on COVID-19 advisory to prevent coronavirus transmission, an official said Tuesday.
Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones also said that those aged 11 and below are banned from the artificial beach, contrary to his department's pronouncement Monday night that "children 12 years and below will not be allowed entry in the beach area starting tomorrow, October 26, 2021."
Leones said allowing 12 years old and above to visit the beach is consistent with the government's vaccination program, which covers the said age group.
While authorities would not require children to present their IDs, he is appealing to parents that they only bring companions 12 years old and above.
Presidential and IATF spokesman Harry Roque said Monday that minors in Metro Manila are only allowed outside their residence for essential activities.
"Hindi pa po pupuwede talagang magpasyal-pasyal ang mga bata," Roque said when asked for comment on the presence of children at the dolomite beach.
(Kids are not yet allowed outside for leisure activities.)
"Nananawagan po kami sa ating mga kababayan, pandemya pa po. Bagama’t bumababa po ang mga kaso natin, eh nandiyan pa po si COVID-19. So huwag po tayong magpabaya," he added.
(We appeal to the public and remind them that there is still a pandemic. Although our cases are going down, there is still COVID-19. So, let's not be complacent.)
"Talaga naman po ang Dolomite eh for the enjoyment of everyone. Pero huwag naman hong maging dahilan ‘yan para magkaroon tayo ng superspreader event."
(The dolomite beach is for the enjoyment of everyone. But let it not be a reason for a superspreader event.)
Leones said crowd control measures will be implemented in the area to prevent the possible spread of COVID-19, a concern raised by some observers after thousands flocked to the area during the weekend amid the lingering pandemic.
The measures include a "rotational and cinema approach" wherein visitors will only be given a set time to stay on the beach.
"Gagawin natin (what we will do) for our purposes, we will just be limiting the number of people to 4,000 to 5,000 in the dolomite area at a given time," Leones said.
There will be a special lane for persons with disability (PWD), senior citizens, and pregnant women.
Leones noted that while authorities have no problem limiting the crowds during weekdays, there is an influx of visitors during weekends.
"Hindi na bumababa sa 18,000 and above," he said.
(Visitors are at least 18,000.)
Jacob Meimban, Jr. of the Manila Bay Coordinating Office said that since the soft-opening of the beach, it received the following number of visitors:
- Oct. 16: more than 8,800
- Oct. 17: around 25,000
- Oct. 18: more than 20,300
- Oct. 19: more than 21,300
- Oct. 20: more than 25,200
- Oct. 21: more than 12,400
- Oct. 22: more than 28,600
- Oct. 23: more than 63,000
- Oct. 24: more than 121,700
The Department of Health (DOH) had pointed out that the overcrowding of people in the dolomite beach over the weekend violated IATF rules.
Leones admitted that contact tracing is difficult to implement in the area at present, which is why they are relying on the public's adherence to health protocols.
Alliance of Health workers president Robert Mendoza had expressed concerns about the crowding.
“Natakot tayo po. Alam po natin, sa ngayon po ay mataas pa rin ang ating utilization rate doon sa mga [intensive care units], sa mga emergency room po ano. At nakita natin na ito ay talagang superspreader din. Puwedeng mag-cause ng pagkakalat ng ating virus. At alam naman natin na kahit bakunado na tayong lahat, ay meron ka pa rin, prone ka pa rin magkasakit. Kaya sana ma-control ito,” he said Monday.
(We are afraid. We know that as of now, intensive care unit and emergency room utilization for COVID cases remains high. And we see that this can be a superspreader that can cause the spread of the virus. And we know that even if we are all vaccinated, we can still get sick with COVID. So we need to control this.)
Prior to the decision to close the dolomite beach on Oct. 29-Nov. 3, a priest questioned the policy allowing the general public to visit it while all cemeteries, memorial parks, and columbaria are ordered closed on Oct. 29-Nov. 2 to prevent coronavirus transmission.
"Alin ba ang mas importante? Ang ating malalim na religious tradition na dumalaw sa ating mga mahal sa buhay na pumanaw na o 'yung magpunta sa beach?" Fr. Aris Sison, parish priest of St. John Paul II Parish in Quezon City, said in an interview on TeleRadyo on Monday.
(What's more important? Our deep religious tradition of visiting our departed loved ones o visit the beach?"
For Sison, there appears to be a "double standard".
"Kung ili-limit ang dami ng tao, 'di ganun din sa sementeryo para lang consistent tayo kasi nakakalito," he said.
(If there will be a limit on people, it could also be done in cemeteries so it's consistent and not confusing.)
Environmental groups earlier urged government to stop putting more dolomite in Manila Bay, and instead use the project funds for the COVID-19 crisis.
But government hopes the project would revive businesses along Roxas Boulevard, Environment Undersecretary Benny Antiporda had said.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources has been criticized over the P389-million project, which government said was part of efforts to beautify Manila Bay and help improve Filipinos' mental health during the pandemic.
Malacañang defended the project, saying the funds for the rehabilitation have long been allocated.
Metro Manila is currently under COVID-19 Alert Level 3. It has logged a total of 847,103 confirmed coronavirus infections, as of Monday, of which, 11,135 are active, data from the DOH showed.
- With a report from Raya Capulong, ABS-CBN News