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It’s beginning to look a lot like…

Don’t look now but Christmas is coming up fast and it feels like we are not prepared for it.

Almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are still cooped up in our homes and limited to the tiny but porous bubbles we’ve formed as we try to limit contact with the outside world in a bid to prevent the spread of the disease, especially among our loved ones.

As the pandemic has given us every excuse to be anti-social, most of us have basically cancelled any sort of celebration and family traditions over the past 21 months of isolation. The rest of the world also went through this stage, but thanks to the independently-ranked world’s worst pandemic response offered by our government, Pinoys have been doing it for much longer.

Two holy weeks, two summer vacations, two entire school years, two all saints/souls days, and in a few days… two Christmases have will have passed in isolation. Aside from a devastated economy, it also feels like we’ve already forgotten how to celebrate the traditions that we used to look forward to.

But now, with the vaccinations program finally gathering steam and herd immunity actually becoming a possibility in the areas where the local government and the residents are on the same page when it comes to the importance of vaccination, it looks like we might get a taste of the Christmas spirit when it comes this year.

For a while there, the looming threat of the Omicron variant made it look like Christmas 2021 may be cancelled yet again but after initial data showed that it is not as scary as it initially seemed, it seems like we may get to enjoy some sort of Christmas celebration in 10 days.

People of all ages are already starting to go out, filling malls and stores. I don’t know if they are all vaccinated, or if they’re just confident because more are vaccinated, but the sight of so many people can be jarring. I’m guessing everyone is panic-Christmas shopping now that an actual celebration is becoming a real possibility. The excitement over the thought of food to prepare and presents to buy must be driving even more people out of their homes and into the enclosed, air-conditioned spaces of our once-empty malls. To top it all off, most are bringing along kids to treat them to toy shopping in a real toy store.

However, even if we are vaccinated and even boostered, we have to remember that we still cannot afford to let our guard down as we prepare for Christmas 2021.  The more contagious but less severe Omicron is still on its introductory world tour. It may be less severe, but its increased infectiousness and feared vaccine-resistance can still turn our Christmas gatherings into super spreader events that can overwhelm our health care system if we forget to be careful.

We seem to be too focused on the “less severe” feature of Omicron but if we’ve been learning our lessons this pandemic, we have to understand that it being more infectious is still a serious threat that we cannot afford to belittle as we make excuses to partake of the Christmas rush.

There’s no avoiding a Christmas gathering or two in the next few weeks but let us remember the importance of proper face mask wearing and focus on ventilation. To make a long story short, eating with a group that is not your bubble in an air conditioned space is still a very bad idea because of Omicron. Eating/drinking with masks off in an air-conditioned space with people who don’t belong to your bubble and could therefore be asymptomatic carriers of the virus is still a recipe for disaster that should get you on Santa’s naughty list.

If gatherings can’t be helped, try to keep the guest list highly curated and take advantage of the cool weather by choosing open air venues. A party without food and drinks would be best, but since we are Filipinos, that would be impossible so let’s just try to keep the mask on as much as possible, or provide ample space for members of bubbles to safely dine together because this pandemic is far from over.

Let us always keep in mind that while this Christmas has the potential to be so much better than the previous one, we could still very easily fall of the wagon and hurt ourselves or our loved ones badly.

We have not forgotten how to celebrate Christmas. To use a poker analogy, if we go all-in now, we could face a very bad beat because we don’t have a strong hand yet and our adversary is a killer. We may have better odds than last year but we can still lose everything we worked for if we are not careful in the next 3 weeks.

Let’s not blow it.*

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