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Isko Blasts Environment Officials Over Dolomite Beach Overcrowding; Children Aged 11 And Below Banned From Visiting The Area

Isko Blasts Environment Officials Over Dolomite Beach Overcrowding; Children Aged 11 And Below Banned From Visiting The Area
Wearing face masks, boys play at the Manila Baywalk Dolomite Beach on Oct. 26, 2021 amid concerns that visits to the area by thousands of people could become COVID-19 superspreader events. Photo by Edd Gumban, The Philippine STAR

Environment officials should be charged for allowing the Manila Bay dolomite beach to be crowded by thousands of visitors over the weekend and causing a superspreader for COVID-19, Mayor Isko Moreno said on Tuesday, Oct. 26.

Moreno said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) did not coordinate with city hall on the opening of the man-made white sand beach.

He called on the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) to file charges against the DENR officials for violating quarantine protocols.

“I am calling on the IATF to charge those people in the DENR for violating quarantine rules. If they cannot implement these guidelines within their offices, there’s no point in implement-ing these policies,” Moreno said in Filipino.

The mayor said he supported allowing people to enjoy open spaces in Manila’s Baywalk, but the people should be spread out.

“I’m grateful to them for beautifying the area, but due diligence must be observed, especially in this situation wherein it could be a super spreader for COVID-19,” Moreno said.

The dolomite beach will be closed from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3 to prevent the people from crowding the area during the observance of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, according to the DENR.

DENR officials said the IATF banned children aged 11 and below from visiting the tourist spot.

“The children are prohibited because most of the visitors who come to the dolomite beach bring at least two kids with them,” DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda said at a press briefing.

DENR Undersecretary for policy, planning and internal affairs Jonas Leones said visitors would be given stubs and limited time to stay on the beach area to control the crowds, which reached 121,744 last Sunday, Oct. 24.

The dolomite beach will be closed to the public every Friday for maintenance work.

Leones said a maximum of 5,000 people per day would be allowed to visit the artificial white sand beach.

“The dolomite beach opens as early as 5:30 a.m. so early birds can take the opportunity of visiting the beach around that time,” he said.

The DENR will also designate a special lane for persons with disability and senior citizens, Leones said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque reiterated that children are not yet allowed outdoors since they are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19.

“As a general rule, the children must stay at home while they have yet to be vaccinated. But there’s an exemption, they are allowed to go out for exercise or in open areas because that is important for their mental health,” he said.

Roque on Monday, Oct. 25, appealed to the public to observe health protocols when visiting the dolomite beach to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

The reopening of the dolomite beach received flak from various sectors, saying it could be a COVID-19 superspreader as it drew large crowds, including minors, especially on weekends.

Senators prodded the DENR to strictly impose rules for the people visiting the dolomite beach.

Sen. Nancy Binay said it would be better if the DENR would temporarily close the dolomite beach while it is still coming up with regulations for visitors.

“It’s just disturbing that while our frontliners in the health sector are doing every necessary intervention in controlling the spread of COVID variants, there are also those who organize events or offer unnecessary attractions yet failed to manage the crowds, resulting in rapid community transmissions,” Binay said.

“From the point of view of health and wellness, what we also need to acknowledge here is the public’s desire to spend time in open spaces,” she added.

Binay said people flocking to the Manila Bay area and parks can be a good step forward for the national and local governments to rethink how green and open spaces would work best in the new normal context.

“Alongside health protocols, a well-thought out urban planning plays a big part in creating the best environment in or outside the cities, which will make sense from a public health perspective,” Binay said.

Sen. Francis Tolentino suggested that the dolomite beach remain open but there should be limits to the number of visitors and duration of visits.

“One should consider the carrying capacity of the beach and proper crowd management,” Tolentino said. – With Paolo Romero, Rhodina Villanueva