WITH less than 50 days before Christmas Day, the Department of Health yesterday warned the public against going to crowded bazaars and tiangges (flea markers) as well as holding indoor gatherings amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
In an online media forum, Rodley Carza, head of the DOH Health Promotion Policy and Technology Unit, said the public should be very careful when engaging in activities during the coming Christmas season, which he said is considered to be “high risk” for COVID-19 transmission.
“Shopping in crowded markets, tiangges, Christmas bazaars, and shopping malls are considered as high-risk activities,” said Carza, adding: “Also considered as high risk are indoor gatherings of a large group of people, and (those which) involves risky actions such as singing, shouting, dancing, and the likes.”
He said attending indoor Simbang Gabi masses is also a high-risk activity.
“Attending in person religious activities held indoor, enclosed spaces with the number of participants exceeding that of the recommended limit,” he said.
Posing “moderate risks” during the Yuletide Season, according to Carza, are outdoor, small group gatherings, where physical distancing is observed and are guided by the restriction on mass gatherings.
Carza said attending online Simbang Gabi masses, virtual gathering with families and friends from outside the household, and doing online shopping are deemed as “low risks” for virus transmission.
Professor Guido David, a member of the OCTA Research Group which analyzes COVID-19 data in the Philippines, said the country may face an increase in its COVID-19 cases as the holidays near.
“We’re aware that as the holiday season approaches, people have fatigue and want to go outside, it’s possible to face an uptick but the important thing is our response is fast so there would not be a surge. We must continue to do what we do right so our trajectory will not change. We need to follow health protocols strictly. We can’t neglect these,” David told ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo.
David said the decline in daily average cases may be due to the Philippine Red Cross’ halt of government testing, which has since resumed, and the disruption of laboratory tests results due to typhoons.
“We expect there’s still a backlog of cases but our trend is real because the positivity rate we see in Metro manila is around 6 percent, close to our target of 5 percent. Even if we lack test results, our positive rate is by percentage, it’s not affected much,” he also said.
Carza noted that during the Christmas season, Filipinos celebrate the occasion by holding numerous gatherings with families and friends.
Filipinos are also usually preoccupied with doing their Christmas shopping and attending the traditional Simbang Gabi masses.
In a bid to minimize, if not eliminate, risks of transmission, the DOH issued Department Circular 2020-0355 or the “Reiteration of the Minimum Public Health Standards for COVID-19 Mitigation during the Holidays.”
In the said guidelines, the public is advised to limit the number of people in social gatherings and activities, preferably people within the same household, as well as keeping the activity as short as possible.
Attendees are also highly encouraged to observe minimum health standards, such as wearing face masks, maintain physical distancing, avoiding touching of surfaces, and ensuring proper ventilation of an activity’s venue.
The public is also urged to increase physical and mental resilience by practicing healthy eating, performing health enhancing physical activities, protecting one’s mental health, and preventing illness and injuries.