To Beat COVID, Filipinos Think the Unthinkable: Giving Up Christmas Parties

To Beat COVID, Filipinos Think the Unthinkable: Giving Up Christmas Parties

Every year for as long as she can remember, Jade Suarez has looked forward to Christmas. It’s the time of the year where the 24-year-old Filipina meets some 300 of her relatives and cousins, coming together from different parts of the Philippines and abroad for a big reunion.

The annual family gathering cannot be complete without generous servings of buffet food and seemingly bottomless drinks. There’s the staple karaoke singing and hours of party games with prizes for all ages.

But this year’s celebration is cancelled because of the worsening pandemic and back-to-back storms that battered the Philippines as 2020 comes to a close.

“Christmas is the most anticipated time for everyone,” Suarez told VICE World News. “But my mom is sad that no one is planning the celebration this year. They’re getting old and some of her siblings have passed. That’s why we always look forward to our annual celebration.”

No other country celebrates the occasion like the Philippines does. The Southeast Asian country takes pride in having the world’s longest Christmas season that begins as early as September 1, marked with extravagant light displays, nightly masses and mall sales.

But the Philippines also has one of the world’s longest-running coronavirus lockdowns. An order to limit travel began in mid-March in its population centers and looks set to continue indefinitely. For the first time in many Filipinos’ lives, Christmas is effectively cancelled.


A shopper watches the lighting ceremony of a 60-foot (18.29 meter) tall Christmas tree at the Mall of Asia in Manila. PHOTO: Ted ALJIBE / AFP​

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the extension of the coronavirus restrictions in metropolitan Manila, as well as his hometown Davao, until the end of the year. In a late-night televised address on Monday, Duterte urged Filipinos to limit Christmas gatherings this year to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Let me remind you that Europe and America are experiencing what they would call a third wave. More people are getting sick and dying,” he said. “These are rich countries that should have a vaccine, but more people are dying because they are stubborn.”

Duterte’s government has been heavily criticized for its failure to control the pandemic compared to neighboring Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan, which have all recorded a fraction of cases compared to the Philippines.

Infection rate has continued to rise since restrictions were relaxed to rebuild the struggling economy in June. The total number of infections rose this week to more than 430,000, the highest number of cases per capita among large Southeast Asian countries.

The government reminded Filipinos to limit family gatherings to immediate family members who live under one roof. Any celebration bigger than that would be considered an illegal mass gathering. The traditional house-to-house carolling has been banned and “Simbang Gabi,” or the nightly masses held by the Catholic Church, has been scaled down to allow social distancing. About 80 percent of the Philippines’ 107-million population are Catholic.

But while the pandemic has disrupted countless plans for Christmas celebration, the Filipinos’ obsession with malls have stayed the same.

The proof of that is in the mall sales that have brought Metro Manila’s traffic to a standstill. The government announced that teens are now allowed to hit the malls as long as they are accompanied by their parents, an exception to the lockdown that has baffled health experts.

“This is a bundle of contradiction,” Dr. Tony Leachon, a former advisor to the country’s coronavirus task force, told VICE World News. “You anticipate that there will be a problem so you impose restrictions, yet you allow people to go to the malls.”

The country is expected to see a rise in infection as the cold season comes in, bringing in a surge of influenza and pneumonia cases, he said. He also noted that the flurry of strong typhoons that hit the country in November can be a factor, too.

Thousands of Filipinos are expected to spend the holidays in evacuation centers, where physical distancing and health protocols are more difficult to enforce.

Source : Anthony Esguerra Link

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