MANILA: Christmas parties, carol singing, and large family gatherings were on Tuesday banned in the Philippines in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The southeast Asian country, renowned for having one of the longest holiday seasons in the world from September to January, was gearing up for muted festive celebrations following the government announcement.
Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said: “Like the plan not to allow Christmas parties, Christmas caroling will be prohibited. There will be no mass gatherings. A family reunion is considered mass gathering.”
During a press conference, Malacanang spokesman Harry Roque said that residents in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) would be allowed to host indoor gatherings for a maximum of 10 people. “People who are caught in mass gatherings during the Christmas season will be dealt with according to the local ordinance. At the very minimum, they will be asked to disassemble. But they could be fined or face another form of penalty as provided in the local ordinance (in their area),” he added.
Roque’s comments on Tuesday came a day after President Rodrigo Duterte’s weekly address to the nation in which he announced that the Philippines’ capital region (Metro Manila) would remain under a GCQ until the end of the year.
Duterte said the government’s decision was based on a recommendation by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID).
Along with Metro Manila, other parts of the country including Batangas province, Iloilo City, Tacloban City, Lanao del Sur, Iligan City, Davao City, and Davao del Norte will also be placed under the GCQ.
The rest of the Philippines, however, will continue to observe the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) throughout December.
The move follows Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday reporting a downward trend in COVID-19 cases in the country.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health, in coordination with other experts, said it was analyzing the drop in the number of infections.
The aim, Duque said, was to guide the public and maintain the daily downward trajectory in virus cases.
He added that the government had advised the country’s health facilities to be ready for a post-holiday spike in COVID-19 cases and reminded the public “not to be complacent. Stay away from large crowds and gatherings to avoid contracting the virus, and celebrate Christmas only with immediate family members,” he said.
Duque also sought the assistance of national government agencies and local government units (LGUs) to ensure the public followed health protocols.
Priam Nepomuceno, a government employee who has lost two relatives to COVID-19, told Arab News: “Safety first. So, basically that’s what we’re going to do. There’s only three of us – me, my wife, and daughter and our two cats. We’re planning to do a food trip or maybe go on a staycation at a hotel.
“This pandemic will be over soon. The vaccine is coming,” he said, adding that “in most conflicts, people get killed during the end when they throw caution to the wind. We don’t want that to happen to us.”
Nepomuceno said that for years, it had been a family tradition to hold a reunion during Christmas, with at least 80 to 100 friends and relatives meeting for the festivities. But with the majority of his relatives being senior citizens – and most at risk of contracting COVID-19 – he pointed out that hosting such large gatherings was currently “a senseless thing to do.”
He added: “For three hours of happiness, we will suffer another death in the family? No way. We already lost two (relatives) because of COVID-19. We don’t need more deaths.”
Ano said: “Like what secretary Duque said, just celebrate Christmas with your immediate family. Minimum health standards must also be observed.”