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Manila cemeteries to close for day of the dead as virus rages

 

Agence France-Presse

Manila  /  Tue, September 15, 2020  /  12:01 pm
Manila cemeteries to close for day of the dead as virus rages

People light candles and pray for their relatives at a cemetery during the annual observance of All Saint's Day in Manila on November 1, 2019. (AFP/Ted Aljibe)

Cemeteries in the Philippine capital will be closed on All Saints' Day for the first time, officials said Monday, preventing millions in the Catholic-majority country from visiting their dead loved ones as the coronavirus rages.  

Filipinos usually pour into graveyards on Nov. 1, blending expressions of faith and grief with a party-like atmosphere and impromptu family reunions.

But as the number of virus infections continues to rise, mayors across Metro Manila have agreed to shutter the cemeteries for the annual rite to prevent further spread of the contagion. 

"The reason behind this, of course, is to avoid mass gatherings. We are in a different situation because we are in a pandemic," Jojo Garcia, general manager of the Metro Manila Development Authority, told reporters.

The authority's spokeswoman Celine Pialago told AFP it would be the first time cemeteries had been closed on All Saints' Day. 

Cemeteries in the Philippines range from quiet fields of white crosses to dense "apartment" tombs stacked meters high.

People in the sprawling capital of 12 million are being encouraged to pay their respects to dead loved ones in the weeks before and after Nov. 1 to avoid crowding. 

The All Saints' Day ritual stretches back to ancient Rome and honors saints. For the Philippines, it is a day to pray for and remember the deceased by visiting their tombs, lighting candles and offering flowers.

Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said the department was considering recommending the closure of cemeteries across the country. 

Despite six months of tough measures, including travel restrictions and mandatory face masks, the Philippines is struggling to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

As of Monday it had more than 265,000 confirmed cases, including over 4,600 deaths.

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