UNLIKE in previous years, Filipinos will usher in the New Year in a pollution-free and physically distanced but no less cheery celebration amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

This will be the likely situation if the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) will decide favorably on the proposal submitted by the EcoWaste Coalition to ban firecrackers and fireworks in welcoming 2021.

Through a letter sent to the IATF-EID last November 17, the group pleaded for the adoption of a resolution to ensure vigorous enforcement by national and local government authorities of a countrywide ban on firecrackers and fireworks to hail the New Year

"Consistent with the government-led efforts to prevent and control the spread of Covid-19, especially in community settings, we urge the IATF-EID to espouse an alternative way of heralding health and environment-friendly New Year that will be possible without the lighting of firecrackers and fireworks," wrote Eileen Sison, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

"We further call on the Task Force to call for a ban on the use of taxpayers' money for the procurement of firecrackers, fireworks, and similar explosives, which should be judiciously used to improve the people's living conditions so affected by the pandemic and the flurry of typhoons that have ravaged parts of the country," she said.

The group called to mind the IATF-EID's successful effort to restrict mass gatherings during the time-honored observance of Undas by shutting down public cemeteries, private memorial parks, and columbaria from October 29 to November 4, which helped in preventing the risk of Covid-19 transmission as Filipinos pay homage to their dearly departed.

"We are certain that the IATF-EID can also succeed in ensuring a safe and ecological welcome of the New Year sans firecrackers and fireworks," said Sison.

A longtime partner of the Department of Health in its annual "Iwas Paputok" campaign, the EcoWaste Coalition insisted that banning firecrackers and fireworks amid the Covid-19 pandemic is highly justified considering that:

1. Lighting firecrackers and fireworks emits loads of toxic gases and pollutants to the environment causing poor air quality in a short period of time, which can weaken the immune system's function and put a person at a higher risk of respiratory infections, including Covid-19.

2. Exposure to toxic pollutants emitted from the bursting of firecrackers and fireworks is dangerous to everyone, especially to the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, including those afflicted with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart problems, diabetes, and other illnesses, as they tend to develop more severe symptoms of Covid-19.

3. Even minor injuries resulting from firecracker and firework accidents will require emergency care and treatment at a hospital to prevent tetanus infection, further straining an already overburdened healthcare system.

4. Celebrating the New Year with firecrackers and fireworks encourages mass gathering in the neighborhood or a community or park hosting a fireworks display, which will make physical distancing, a precautionary health measure against Covid-19, difficult to observe.

Instead of spending public, or even private, funds for firecrackers and fireworks, the EcoWaste Coalition believed that resources are better used to augment disaster relief and assistance for the survivors of typhoons Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses and other destructive calamities.

The resources saved from procuring such health and environment damaging products can also be used for additional hazard allowance for Covid-19 frontline workers in the healthcare sector; and for the provision of seed capital for a start-up business of retrenched employees.

The EcoWaste Coalition's letter was submitted to IATF officials led by Secretary Carlito Galvez, Jr. (Chief Implementer), Health Secretary Francisco Duque III (Co-Chairperson), and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei Nograles (Co-Chairperson), as well as Secretary Eduardo Año of the Department of Interior and Local Government.

Last November 18, the Department of Health-Office of the Secretary informed the EcoWaste Coalition that it has already endorsed its letter to the Public Health Services Team for their appropriate action. (Manny Calonzo)


Manny C. Calonzo is a former president of the EcoWaste Coalition