Filipinos flock to cemeteries ahead of Day of the Dead closure

Manila (AFP) –


Thousands of people wearing masks and face shields poured into cemeteries in Manila Wednesday for their last chance to visit dead loved ones ahead of a government-ordered closure of graveyards for All Saints' Day.

The religious observance on November 1 is usually marked by festivities and impromptu family gatherings that authorities fear could fuel the spread of the coronavirus in the Catholic-majority Philippines.

In a bid to prevent that happening, cemeteries across the country will be closed for the first time from Thursday until November 4.

Charito Caones usually spends days scrubbing and repainting the tombs of his relatives in preparation for the annual rite.

This year he had a few hours.

"I hope this won't happen again and we'll be able to spend the night with them," Caones told AFP as he sat in front of the graves of his brother and nephew.

Wearing mandatory masks and face shields, people clutched bags of food and bunches of flowers as they passed through temperature checks and disinfection tents at the entrance to the Manila North Cemetery -- one of several in the sprawling capital of 12 million people.

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

Many poor people also live in the city's graveyards. One dweller told AFP that his family had stocked up on supplies before the gates closed.

Mary Jane Mendoza, 47, said she had not been able to visit her dead husband since March when a months-long lockdown for the virus began.

"I'm sorry we're not able to visit you often because of our situation. We're in the middle of a pandemic," said Mendoza, addressing her husband's tomb.

Princess Malay, 45, said All Saints' Day was a chance to catch up with relatives -- and celebrate her deceased father's birthday.

"We don't want him to feel lonely here, he's on his own," she said.