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Off to a good start

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IN an auspicious start, 2018 began with the news that the country registered the biggest reduction in the number of firecracker-related injuries this holiday season, down 68 percent from the previous year.

The Health Department, which has been behind a yearly campaign to stop firecracker use during the holidays, said there were 191 firecracker-related injuries recorded this year from Dec. 21, 2017 to Jan. 1, 2018, 77 percent lower than the five-year average, and 68 percent lower than the cases reported in the same period last year.

Significantly, there were no reported deaths, and no reported cases of fireworks ingestion by children.

Still, the injuries in seven cases were so serious as to require amputation, and one person died from a stray bullet fired during the New Year festivities.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III attributed the sharp decline in holiday injuries to President Rodrigo Duterte’s executive order, issued in June, which bans private citizens from using firecrackers.

On New Year’s Eve, most residents in Metro Manila—which accounted for 60 percent of the injuries this year—observed the marked reduction in firecracker use. Midnight was still marked by a sudden, raucous burst of noise from firecrackers, but these quickly tapered off after an hour.

Unlike previous years, the air after midnight was not sooty; the streets were not littered with the debris of spent firecrackers. Despite the recalcitrant few who felt compelled to light up at midnight, all of us had anecdotal evidence that the firecracker ban was working.

Duque said he was relatively pleased with the results. Pleased because the number of injuries had gone down, but only relatively so because there still were injuries.

Asked how these might be further minimized, Duque suggested that the end goal really was to ban firecrackers completely.

This is a target we can get behind.

It makes no sense, after all, to spend good money and to risk life and limb year in and year out to honor some hoary tradition of driving away evil spirits. This time, we all proved that we can ring in the New Year without creating a public health hazard.

The ironic footnote to this year’s success was that a substantial number of injuries—25 out of 191 or 13 percent for this holiday season—came from a community fireworks display in Dagupan City that was supposed to be safer, and presumably approved by the local village authorities.

This merely highlights the need to take all firecrackers away from amateurs—and for the government to press on with its campaign to ban their use altogether.


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