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Philippines

Keep your distance at Christmas, Philippine govt warns

Filipinos told to keep party urges during the Covid-hit festive season in check or risk arrest

Keep your distance at Christmas, Philippine govt warns

Churchgoers at Manila Cathedral maintain social distancing while attending a pre-dawn Mass. (Photo: Manila Cathedral)

The Christmas season is not an excuse to violate Covid-19 rules and protocols, the Philippine government has warned the public, including churchgoers.

Gatherings of over 10 people are not allowed because they are considered mass gatherings and are a violation of anti-pandemic rules, Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano, a member of the inter-agency task force for the management of infectious diseases, said on Dec. 17. 

Guidelines issued in October prohibited large gatherings other than movie screenings, concerts, sporting events and other entertainment activities.

Christmas parties were considered non-essential activities that remain a violation of pandemic protocols.

“We are warning those who will hold Christmas parties in restaurants, malls and other public places. This remains illegal and a violation of our quarantine protocols. Any gathering of more than 10 people outside [homes] will be considered a mass gathering,” Ano told reporters.

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Ano, however, clarified that family gatherings are still legal. “It’s really the number. Restaurants should also be careful. Make sure you observe proper social distancing,” he added.

The interior secretary urged churchgoers to hold virtual Christmas parties instead to prevent further spread of the virus.

“If you can avoid face-to-face parties, please do so. Our people’s instinct at Christmas is to celebrate, go out, shop, buy gifts and gather. Every time people get close together, there’s a risk of infection,” he said.

His warning followed a Health Department report saying Covid-19 infections had increased in the past two weeks due to activities related to the holiday.

Police chief Gen. Debold Sinas warned that police will check restaurants and other venues for possible violations.

“Solemn parties are allowed. If you hold a solemn celebration, eat together and observe social distancing in your home, then we will not disturb you,” Sinas told reporters in the same interview.

Sinas assured churchgoers that police authorities would not barge into houses unless they received complaints from neighborhood and local authorities for possible violations.

“Our instruction is to disperse these mass gatherings and invite those responsible to the police precinct for questioning,” Sinas added.

Churchgoers agreed with Sinas yet criticized him for violating the same protocols by holding a birthday party for himself with fellow police in May.

“He and his companions were not apprehended. I hope the law will not only favor those who are in positions of power,” said Roderick Madallo, a churchgoer from Quezon City.

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