Fri, 04 Dec 2020

Visitors wearing protective masks take a stroll inside the Enchanted Kingdom amusement park in Laguna Province, the Philippines, on Oct. 18, 2020. (Xinhua/Rouelle Umali)

Filipinos are bracing for a party-less Christmas as the government moves to retain strict virus-related lockdown measures until the end of the year.

MANILA, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) -- To 24-year-old college student Migs Refran, the decision to ban Christmas parties in the Philippines amid COVID-19 dampens the Christmas spirit.

"It's a downer. It's going to be a sad Christmas, but there is nothing we can do for now. The virus is still out there," he told Xinhua in a telephone interview, referring to COVID-19 which is still on the rampage in the Southeast Asian country.

Filipinos are bracing for a party-less Christmas as the government moves to retain strict virus-related lockdown measures until the end of the year. Authorities have said keeping the restrictions, which include a ban on Christmas parties, are necessary to keep a surge in the disease cases in check.

Christmas is marked by big celebrations in the Philippines, where around 80 percent of the population are Catholic. Traditional masses, family gatherings, and endless parties are held during the season that kicks off as early as September.

People shop for Christmas decorations at a market in Quezon City, the Philippines, Nov. 7, 2019. (Xinhua/Rouelle Umali)

Christmas trimmings and blinking lights pop up in malls, the streets, and the parks. Radio stations also start to play Christmas carols and festive hits in the run-up to Christmas Day.

But the Christmas season is different this year. Due to fear of transmission, malls are allowed to operate at a limited capacity. Mall-goers are discouraged lingering in shopping centers.

Unlike the past years, Refran said his family does not have travel and merrymaking plans this year. Only "face-to-face" virtual family reunion via social media, he said, adding it is "the safest way to celebrate Christmas this year."

The decision to scrap Christmas merrymaking comes as Filipinos struggle with mental fatigue due to prolonged isolation, loss of jobs, and loss of loved ones for some. People fear contracting the virus, and the pandemic abruptly changed the daily lives of the people as the movements are restricted.

The Philippines has been put on varying degrees of lockdown since mid-March.

Faced with new realities of working from home, temporary unemployment, home-schooling of children, and lack of physical contact with other family members, friends, and colleagues, the Department of Health (DOH) urges people to look after their mental, as well as physical health.

According to a survey, which was presented by DOH National Mental Health Program in a recent online press briefing, at least 3.6 million Filipinos are suffering from any form of mental, neurological, and substance use disorders.

An elderly woman wearing a face mask is seen at a market in Manila, the Philippines, Oct. 15, 2020. (Xinhua/Rouelle Umali)

Psychiatrist Benny Vicente said the number of Filipinos suffering from clinical depression is rising due to the pandemic.

"There are now more Filipinos with clinical depression due to COVID-19. We are seeing more cases of anxiety and depression," Vicente, a consultant to the Philippine Mental Health Association, said in a recent local radio interview.

"This is not just acute stress. It's chronic stress, which is a long stressful condition," he said, adding that the lockdown restrictions have taken away the "normal" coping mechanisms of people such as exercise, social contact, or social support.

If left unchecked, he said it can lead to all sorts of serious health problems, including anxiety and burnout, and even suicidal thoughts due to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and lack of happiness.

Health authorities advised people to continue to refine, learn, and adjust to the "new normal" because COVID-19 will likely be around for the foreseeable future. In short, roll with the punches.

"People feel restless; people feel anxious. They are irritable. They have social withdrawal; there is a loss of motivation because of reduced productivity. These are the signs that we are seeing now," Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.

People wear protective face masks inside a mall in Manila, the Philippines, on Sept. 25, 2020. (Xinhua/Rouelle Umali)

She said people need to develop "a healthy coping mechanism while in isolation."

"They need to accept within themselves that we will not go back to the way it used to be, and we should transition to this new normal," she added.

Moreover, Vergeire advised Filipinos to "stay connected" with other people through social media and find "other sources of entertainment."

As for student Refran, he said Filipinos need to learn how to roll with the punches during these challenging times. "That is one way to find peace of mind in tough times," he said.

The Philippines has now reported 365,799 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 312,691 recoveries and 6,915 deaths.■

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