MANILA (UPDATED) — Because the holiday season is fast approaching, the Department of Health (DOH) has released public health guidelines to ensure that Filipinos will celebrate the holidays without risking the spread of COVID-19.
The DOH, through its circular No. 2020-0355 dated Oct. 30, advised limited face-to-face activities even during the holidays.
The public should instead conduct celebrations virtually, do their shopping online, and attend online Masses, among others.
"Alalahanin po natin na mas mataas ang risk [sa pagkalat ng COVID-19 ang] in-person activities kaya po kung hindi maiiwasan ang mga ito, piliin po natin ang mga outdoor activities na open at nasa well-ventilated areas," DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said during a press briefing on Friday.
(We should be reminded that in-person activities are high risk for the spread of COVID-19. But if these activities could not be averted, we should choose to conduct these celebrations outdoors in well-ventilated areas.)
Vergeire added that Filipinos should instead shorten the duration of in-person activities if they want to hold gatherings.
Minimum health standards such as the wearing of face masks, face shields, physical distancing, and cough etiquette, she said, should be enforced.
“If and when hindi po maiiwasan na magkaroon ng mga ganitong activities, remember to [follow] these minimum health standards,” she said.
The DOH also discouraged Filipinos from traveling to areas with a higher quarantine classification, and vice versa.
“Activities with participants who are travelling from areas of higher quarantine classification may increase the spread of the virus to areas with lower quarantine classification,” the DOH circular read.
The health department also prohibited buffet-style food service and the sharing of household items during celebrations.
Surfaces indoors should also be disinfected at all times.
"Household items may be contaminated by respiratory droplets. Hence, avoid unnecessary touching of surfaces and sharing of household items... Packaging must also be disinfected prior to distribution," said DOH.
Proper hand hygiene before and after exchanging gifts should be observed and hand sanitizers must be readily available, it added.
The use of videoke machines during the holidays is prohibited, Vergeire said during a Laging Handa press briefing Saturday, saying activities such as singing could transmit the virus at a higher chance.
Vergeire said the recommendation is based on a study she recently read.
“Dito ipinakita [ang transmittal ng virus] kapag ikaw ay nagsasalita, na kapag ikaw ay humihinga, kapag ikaw ay umuubo at nakikita sa pag-aaral na ito na kapag ikaw ay kumakanta ito ang pinakamataas na load ng virus na puwede mong mai-transmit,” she said, citing a study.
(The study showed the transmittal of the virus if you are talking, breathing, or coughing. It showed that the highest chance of transmitting the virus load is during the time when you are singing.)
She explained that the health department is not restricting family members inside a household to use videoke machines.
“Siyempre 'pag may ganito pong mga ebidensya… sinasabi po natin na hindi na po muna natin mairerekomenda na itong videoke ay mabuksan although sa pam-pamilya lang na di lumalabas pwede naman natin 'yang payagan, pero ang mga malawakan baka po puwedeng iwasan na muna.”
(We have evidence like this so we are not recommending the use of videoke this time. Although it can be used by families who do not go out, using it during social gatherings with other people not advised to do for now.)
If sick or waiting for COVID-19 test results, stay at home
People experiencing symptoms of the virus such as cough, sore throat, loss of smell, among others are advised by the health department to stay at home and isolate. The same goes for people still waiting for their COVID-19 test results.
Individuals who are considered at high-risk of catching the virus such as the elderly, pregnant women, and people with underlying health conditions, are recommended to avoid large gatherings and activities.
“If sick, stay at home and avoid social gatherings. A primary care or telemedicine provider or BHERT (barangay health emergency response team) must be consulted if an individual is a suspect or a family member has contracted COVID-19."
In mid-October, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año announced that Christmas parties are prohibited in Metro Manila this year after mayors agreed to place the entire region under general community quarantine until yearend.