MANILA -- The novel coronavirus pandemic has certainly changed the way people shop and celebrate, with physical stores and gatherings now skipped in favor of their virtual counterparts.
This begs the question, "Will people even get to celebrate Christmas this year given the global health crisis?"
The answer is yes, at least according to a group of health care professionals in the Philippines, but it has to be done with a lot of care and a bit of creativity.
In a recent online press conference, members of Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) shared tips on how to ensure the safety of all family members during the upcoming holiday season.
HPAAC, which represents more than 160 health professional organizations, believes that Christmas gatherings are still possible as long as these follow safety guidelines as well as limits set by the government.
Dr. Aileen Espina, national director of the Philippine Academy of Family Physicians, said there are many ways to bond with family and friends amid the restrictions caused by the pandemic.
Among these are the widely held virtual events, the "drive-thru" where people say a quick hello and give a gift to a loved one without leaving their vehicles, and holding an intimate party at an open space to ensure physical distancing.
Espina stressed the importance of regularly self-checking for symptoms of the virus, especially days before the planned event, to avoid being a superspreader.
"Planuhin nang mabuti… may lead time dapat sa pagpaplano, mga two weeks hanggang isang buwan. I-monitor ang health status ng lahat ng pupunta sa party. Baka may na-expose sa trabaho o kung saan... Virtual presence muna kung may exposure," she said.
Dr. Maria Carmela Agustin-Kasala, chair of public relations engagement system services of the Philippine Pediatric Society, noted that the novel coronavirus pandemic has also changed people's priorities when it comes to gifts, with a bigger focus on essential items.
She said homemade items such as food and crafts make ideal holiday gifts as these are more likely to be safe, provided that no one in the household has tested positive or has symptoms of the virus.
"We are getting by with the essentials for now... Hindi na siguro maluluhong regalo, 'yung mga gawa-gawa na crafts okay na. Marami na ring natututong gumawa ng mga handmade gifts," she said.
For those who want to buy instead of create, Agustin-Kasala encouraged supporting local businesses "to get the economy going" and to go for cashless, and contactless transactions.
"Ang dumi-dumi ng pera, kung saan-saan na umabot. We have to be careful," she said.
To people who are missing the old-school Christmas shopping experience, she suggested going to open-air stores and make sure that these are not crowded.
Dr. Anna Ong-Lim, chief of the Philippine General Hospital's (PGH) Pediatric Infectious Disease division, meanwhile, mentioned the need to properly wash hands after picking up gifts to reduce the chances of transmitting the virus of an object to a person.
When it comes to get-togethers, the HPAAC members present at the virtual press conference were one in saying that the three Ws should always be remembered: wear a mask, watch your distance, and wash your hands.
Espina suggested that members of the same household be seated together as eating involves the removal of masks.
"Pero alamin muna kung allowed na ba ang mag-party na may taga-labas. Baka mahuli kayo ni Kapitan, mahirap na," she said.
She went on to advise the hosts of the celebration to put up a disinfecting station by the door and require all guests to use it before entering their home.
"Kung kayang gawin sa labas, open-air kung may garden, mas okay. Maintain dapat 'yung distansiya sa isa't isa," she said.
Ong-Lim, on the other hand, floated the idea of holding Christmas celebrations without food and beverage so people no longer need to take off their masks.
"Kung talagang gusto nating mag-reunion, hindi naman necessarily kailangang magsalo-salo habang kumakain. Puwedeng magkita-kita pagkatapos kumain, that's an option," she said.
"Huwag na munang mag-buffet para hindi mag-transmit," she added.
Dr. Inday Dans, a pediatrician and epidemiologist from PGH, for her part said larger clans or families could hold a series of smaller parties by batch.
"Kung masyadong marami nakakatakot pa rin... 'Di naman kailangang magsabay-sabay, puwedeng iplano na sa araw na ito, ito ang pupunta na pamilya," she said.
"Kaya nating magkaroon ng maligayang Pasko. Magplano lang at mag-ingat," she ended.