Skip the fireworks for this year: Inquirer

Public health and safety have been the overriding reason for the severe restrictions these past year and a half, and all those efforts and sacrifices may end up for naught for a night of revelry. - Reuters

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network): Every year, people spend a small fortune lighting up firecrackers on New Year's Eve in the belief that this would chase evil spirits away from the incoming year.

With 2021 seeing shattered lives and a shaky economy due to the onslaught of severe typhoons and the seemingly unshakeable grip of Covid-19, people are bound to light even more fireworks in fervid hopes of a better year ahead.

The foolhardy notion has become a yearly ritual that, ironically, could bring on even more mishaps and dire consequences.

Take it from the Department of Health (DOH), which has already logged at least 25 cases of fireworks-related injuries and casualties from Dec 21 to 29.

With only 12 cases reported in the same period last year, the figure shows an increase of 108 per cent. Most of the injured are minors aged nine to 16, with the use of prohibited firecrackers such as boga (PVC cannon), 5-Star, and piccolo identified as the culprit.

Twenty of the cases resulted in blast or burn injuries, seven of them requiring amputation and six others sustaining eye injuries.

But while the DOH has advised the public to use safer alternatives to pyrotechnics - noisemakers like bells, pots and pans, tambourines - the agency also warned against blowing trumpets and whistles as these could spread the coronavirus via infected saliva droplets.

The dip in fireworks injuries in recent years and the loosened pandemic restrictions have prompted fireworks sellers and manufacturers to beseech the government to lift the suspension of the processing of their licenses imposed in 2018. Thankfully, it has remained in place, preventing what could be a more blood-soaked prelude to the incoming year.

The suspension is complemented by the strict implementation of Executive Order No. 28, which bans individuals from using firecrackers or setting up their own fireworks displays.

Community fireworks display by local government units (LGUs) are still allowed as long as they adhere to minimum public health standards including social distancing. They must also be done in designated areas identified by the LGU and carefully inspected by public safety agencies, such as the Bureau of Fire Protection and the local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

Aside from risking their life and limb, violators of the ban face a fine of P20,000-P30,000 (RM1,600-2,500), and can land in jail for up to a year. The ban has been welcomed by environmental groups like the EcoWaste Coalition, which slammed the reckless use of pyrotechnics as a source of pollution and a threat to respiratory health.

As part of the government's Oplan "Paalala: Iwas Paputok" campaign, LGUs must also intensify their information drive and identify the pyrotechnic devices that are allowed and considered legal, and how to use and store these flammable items to prevent fires. Firefighters in Cebu have reported responding to at least 30 fire alarms from Dec 16 to 26, the most common cause being the use of firecrackers.

The police, too, must own up to their personal responsibility for the community's safety as they are no longer required to tape the muzzle of their guns, a previous precaution against stray bullets discharged by trigger-happy cops on New Year's Eve that have killed innocent bystanders.

The preventive measure was dropped in 2016 by then Philippine National Police chief and now Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, with one of his successors, former PNP chief Debold Sinas, vouching for the police's supposed sense of discipline.

To people used to greeting the new year with a bang, the ban against fireworks seems unnecessarily harsh as they attempt to burn and scatter to the winds their frustrations from a sorry year just past.

Why stop people from having a blast and celebrating, some might ask. Isn't surviving yet another challenging year and slipping past the clutches of Covid-19 worth lighting up the skies?

Well, it is. But public health and safety have been the overriding reason for the severe restrictions these past year and a half, and all those efforts and sacrifices may end up for naught for a night of revelry. Let's give 2022 an exuberant and rousing welcome with all our limbs and senses intact.

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