More churches in Metro Manila suspend Holy Week activities as COVID-19 cases spike

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 21) — Holy Week services in several churches in Metro Manila will be conducted online for now, as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

The Diocese of Novaliches announced churches in its vicinity would be under lockdown in a bid to stem the spread of the virus, adding services would be streamed online in the meantime and on-site activities would resume on Easter Sunday (April 4).

In a statement dated March 20, Bishop Roberto O. Gaa, DD said, "This in order for us to help arrest the worsening Covid-19 pandemic, especially in this part of Metro Manila where our Diocese is located and where some 11 Barangays out of 20 are greatly affected. I believe that if nothing drastic is done and things are left as they are now, the worsening situation could spill further onto other places both within and beyond our Diocese."

The Diocese of Novaliches covers 71 parishes in Caloocan City and Quezon City.

The Diocese of Cubao also announced it would be enforcing a lockdown in all of its parishes from March 22 to April 4.

"Voluntarily closing our places of worship at the highest point of our liturgical year is heartbreaking. But we also open our eyes to a situation that puts many of our faithful at risk. Numbers are surging and scientific data show that unless drastic interventions are done, these numbers will not decline anytime soon," Cubao Bishop Rev. Honesto F. Ongtioco, DD said in a statement diocese's website.

San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila, meanwhile, will also be under lockdown after its parish priest died from the virus.

A statement posted on the Facebook page of the Augustinian Vicariate of the Orient said Fr. Arnold Sta. Maria Cañoza succumbed to the virus on Sunday. He was 45 years old. 

"Due to the nature of Fray Arnold's passing, the entire convent community will be on lockdown starting today, 21 March 2021," the statement said.

Earlier, churches in Manila and Muntinlupa also announced the suspension of Holy Week activities amid the spike in COVID-19 cases.

In a radio interview on Friday, Mayor Isko Moreno said all related activities will be canceled, including the rituals of "penitensya," "Visita Iglesia," and "caridad, adding it was logical to do away with mass gatherings that could turn into superspreader events, especially with the COVID numbers rising.

Muntinlupa Mayor Jaime Fresnedi also announced a similar move, except for the conduct of masses. However, churches were asked to maintain 30% seating capacity.

Meanwhile, Antipolo City in Rizal also announced that its annual "Alay Lakad" and other Holy Week activities will be cancelled this year.

On March 20, the country logged its highest number of infections at nearly 8,000 new cases.