Minors, or those aged 17 and below, are not yet allowed to visit the Manila Bay dolomite beach amid the COVID-19, Malacanang said, as it warned the public against complacency in the midst of the pandemic.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque issued the statement following reports of crowding and disregard of health protocols at the dolomite beach in Manila Bay last Sunday.
The Department of Health said there was overcrowding in Manila Bay’s dolomite beach over the weekend and was in violation of rules set by the Inter-Agency Task Force against COVID-19.
The Manila Police District reported that approximately 65,000 people visited the beach on Sunday.
The Palace official appealed to the public to not bring their kids to Manila’s man-made dolomite beach on Roxas Boulevard, saying children are still not allowed to leave their homes unless for essential purposes.
“First of all, children are only allowed outside for essential activities, so they cannot really move out for leisurely trips and for travel,” he said.
He reminded the public that the country was still under a pandemic, even if the daily cases had started decreasing, COVID-19 was still present, and the people should not be complacent.
“The dolomite beach is for everyone’s enjoyment, but it should not be a reason to have a superspreader event,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Monday stood firm on its ground not to close the Manila Bay dolomite beach despite overcrowding amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview over Super Radyo dzBB, Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said it would be unfair for the public to prohibit the people to see and enjoy the artificial white sand area of Manila Bay.
“We cannot just do that (to order the closure). If we have spent that big just to close it, I don’t think it will be fair to the Filipino people,” he said.
“The dolomite beach was opened to relieve the anxiety of the people amid the pandemic, but we will not permit a super spreader. We are recalibrating our system to ensure the safety of our people. We are doing our best to satisfy everybody,” he noted.
Roque reiterated the government’s COVID-19 battle cry “Mask, Hugas, Iwas” which urges the public to always wear a face mask, wash their hands properly, and practice physical distancing.
The Palace official likewise reminded the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19 whenever they can.
Roque then called on the Manila police to ensure that health protocols such as social distancing and proper wearing of face masks are observed.
The Manila Bay dolomite beach project is under the DENR, not the city government.
Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, in an interview with reporters, said: “The IATF has designated protocols on what should be reopened. Under Alert Level 3, outdoor capacity must be at 50 percent. What we saw over the weekend was not 50 percent.”
“Agencies have the responsibility to prevent these mass gatherings or else we would revert to restrictions and all of us don’t want that,” Vergeire said.
The DOH official urged the public to avoid crowded areas and reminded authorities to enforce minimum health standards.
“If we can’t implement them, let’s regulate them. Let’s change the process but we have to cooperate in order to prevent an increase in cases here in NCR and even other parts of the country,” she said.
Aside from avoiding overcrowded areas, families are urged to “maintain their bubbles,” wear masks, observe physical distancing and conduct their gatherings outdoors, Vergeire said.
“It’s up to us if we will go back to tight restrictions and increasing virus cases and hospitalization,” the undersecretary added.
Antiporda said there must be a regulation of visitors coming to the area.
Despite criticisms, DENR, along with the Department of Public Works and Highways, pursued the rehabilitation in Manila Bay, including the beach nourishment project using crushed dolomite boulders as artificial white sand.
Environment officials stressed that the beach nourishment project was a significant phase of the Manila Bay rehabilitation program upon the issuance of a writ of continuing mandamus by the Supreme Court.
The High Court’s mandamus in 2008 directed DENR and all other government agencies to clean, rehabilitate and preserve Manila Bay.
The government spent P389 million for rehabilitation.
Authorities raised concern that people flocking to Manila Bay could be a super spreader event over the weekend.
The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases downgraded
Alert Level 3 the status in Metro Manila from Oct. 16 to Oct. 31.
According to Antiporda, authorities have already modified the guidelines to only allow a batch of people to stay in the area for five minutes, after which they must leave the place to enable the others to enter.
He said DENR and the Manila City government have fielded more marshals to ensure that the minimum health protocols are being strictly observed.
In related developments, Philippine National Police Chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar ordered Monday the Manila Police District to closely coordinate with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Manila City government in limiting the number of visitors at the Manila Bay dolomite beach and length of stay.
This came after thousands of people flocked to the beach over the weekend, resulting in an apparent disregard of minimum health protocols.
“My order includes continued cooperation with the local government to have a proper system, especially in bringing in children that we saw in the video and in the photos that posted on social media,” Eleazar said in a statement.
While he understands the excitement of people to go out following the easing of restrictions, Eleazar said this was not a reason for them to be complacent as the threat of coronavirus lingers.
“This is not a reason to disregard the safety of everyone, especially the children they have included so it is clear in the policy that they cannot come out under the COVID Alert. Level 3 status,” he added.
On Sunday, authorities temporarily stopped the entry of visitors to the area when the crowd reached 4,000.
“Our safety also depends on our self-discipline so the police will help to remind you of this because you may add to the upcoming Undas if you continue to ignore the rules for your safety in the midst of a pandemic,” said Eleazar.
The development of the dolomite beach comprises Phase 1 of the beach nourishment project undertaken by the DENR as part of Manila Bay’s rehabilitation.
The DENR-led rehabilitation aims to make Manila Bay’s water fit again for swimming and other contact recreational activities in compliance with a Supreme Court order issued in 2008.