Not the more, the merrier: Philippines celebrates a very different Christmas

By Sara Gómez Armas

Manila, Dec 18 (efe-epa).- Asia’s largest Catholic nation, the Philippines, is celebrating a very different Christmas this year amid fears that even restricting capacity at churches will not be enough to stop a rebound in Covid-19 infections.

Christmas is one of the most celebrated dates on the country’s calendar and the month of December usually brings crowded shopping malls, dining in restaurants only if you reserve well in advance and much more congested traffic than at other times of the year.

However, due to the pandemic, the Christmas atmosphere this year is more relaxed, although recently there has been an increase in people out on the streets compared to the preceding months, marked by one of the longest and strictest lockdowns the world, particularly in Manila.

The Philippines, where the first wave of infections has not yet stopped, has accumulated more than 452,000 Covid-19 infections and 8,800 deaths.

With the fear that January will see a rebound in infections, the authorities are urging safe, modest family Christmases with no more than 10 people, and have reduced the capacity of church masses to 30 percent.

In the early hours of Wednesday, the Philippines began the celebration of “Simbang Gabi,” a series of nine nightly masses leading up to Christmas Eve that culminate with the popular midnight mass on Dec. 25.

To avoid large crowds, this year there will be more than one mass per night in churches, where a distance of one meter between people must be kept, and the use of masks and face shields will be mandatory.

The Philippines was the first country in the world this week to impose the mandatory use of face shields in public spaces, including outdoors, to prevent infections during festivities, although the measure is likely to be extended until vaccination begins, likely in the second half of 2021.

According to the Department of Health, the joint use of a mask and face shield reduces the risk of contagion by up to 96 percent.

A research group of the University of the Philippines has already warned that the rate of Covid transmission in Manila is at 1.06 – above the recommended threshold of 1 – although the Department of Health places it at 0.94. EFE-EPA


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