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The Christmas season is upon us. As we have gotten accustomed to over the years, this is when traffic jams dramatically increase in intensity. With more than 400,000 vehicles expected back on EDSA this season, and number coding still on the bench, expect nothing but Armageddon-like traffic for most of the day.

The prevailing COVID-19 situation, while still a predominant concern in the country, seems to have had little effect on lessening the volume of vehicles on the road. If any, it has given a lot of people a valid reason to purchase a car. The risk of sharing air and space with a COVID-19 positive is just too much to bear especially after spending the better part of the year in quarantine conditions.

According to the University of the Philippines OCTA Research team, COVID-19 reproduction rate in the National Capital Region is already up to 1.06 because more people are heading out of their homes. As of the Department of Health’s latest figures, more than 5,000 new cases have been confirmed in Metro Manila alone in the last two weeks. Because more people are spending time out of their homes, shopping malls, markets, restaurants, Christmas parties and family gatherings are all potential disease vectors this holiday season. 

But, Christmas is Christmas. And pandemic be damned, people will head out to find gifts and bring joy to their loved ones. Which is also good for the recovering economy, even if it is not exactly great for our health. But as we are still in the midst of a thousand new cases each day across the country, there has to be a more deliberate effort to protect ourselves each time we head out.

So here are some things to expect and prepare for as you venture out into the mayhem that is the holiday rush.

Expect traffic, and loads of it 

If it has not been clear already, slow-moving traffic is back. And it is back big time this season. The Christmas rush combined with ongoing infrastructure construction in key areas such Alabang, Balintawak and Commonwealth, as well as other cities where MRT, LRT, and Skyway  work are happening, have all made driving in the metro an ordeal. 

Although one can say there are less vehicles now on the road compared to the same time last year because of ongoing work from home policies, the anxiety and stress that slow moving traffic and gridlock produce remain the same. 

With more people in cars on the streets as early as 5 a.m., and still on the road up to 11:30 p.m., traffic has truly become a round the clock affair. So always factor in extra time spent on the road to your estimated time of arrival or ETA. And expect even navigation apps like Waze to call your ETAs wrong from time to time. 

Know alternative routes

Relying on navigation apps has been a big help for motorists. However, they can sometimes make wrong calls especially when roadblocks and construction seem to appear all of a sudden along the route. 

Being familiar with road networks are laid out, and the possible alternative routes can save you a lot of time on the road. Waze and Google Maps will almost always try to combine the fastest and shortest routes into its suggestions. But they may also lead you down roads where they detect car traffic to be non-existent, only for you to realize that you are sharing the road with buses and 18-wheeler trucks. The extra knowledge you have can lead you to routes these two apps would not initially suggest. 

Shun road rage

‘Tis the season to be jolly! It is Christmas after all  so are we not supposed to spread good tidings and cheer? With the ongoing holiday rush we can’t blame you for feeling the need to vent out your frustration on an erring motorist. But just keep the limb-mangling in your thoughts. Or better yet, do not fret about what others are doing wrong. Just do what you know is right, follow  road rules, and be courteous to others. This pacifist mindset will go a long way in keeping you stress-free and preserving and promoting the holiday spirit.

Accidents aplenty

There is value in having a defensive driving mindset behind the wheel. For one, you are more alert. More cars packed in a tight space means more chances of fender benders. So you need to know and judge the right distance between your vehicle and the others around you. 

Second, by not assuming other drivers will do the same thing that you would, you can better react to whatever maneuver they might suddenly engage in. By expecting others to make mistakes, you can heighten your senses to be able to avoid collision.

Pack your tunes

Spending hours behind the wheel can be a taxing test of patience and stamina. So make sure you have the means to entertain yourself while in a jam. Make a playlist beforehand with tunes that can soothe your frayed nerves. Or how about playing those informative and educational podcasts you otherwise would not have time to listen to? A car’s infotainment system is an essential part of driving and travel nowadays. Just remember to avoid distracted driving practices such as typing or reading messages while driving. 

A long walk from parking

With the temperature screening and the filling out contact tracing forms now a standard requirement, entrances to malls and establishments have become limited. At times, they can be quite a good distance from where you end up parking. So if you want to park near an open entrance into a mall, make sure you get there early.

Plan for a splash and dash

Knowing what to buy and which store to buy from can save you time spent inside a mall. The less time you wander about, the less chances you come into contact with someone who has the virus. Remember, most malls and restaurants are enclosed spaces, and these are the places  where the virus thrives.

Avoid mall hopping

While we all want the economy to get going again by buying from shops and dining out at eating establishments, we must do so with precaution and responsibility in mind. Aside from reducing the risk of getting infected by the virus, less mall hopping also means we will be reducing the risk of spreading the virus in case we are the carriers. Knowing where to buy your gifts makes for less trips on the road and less chances of getting stuck in traffic too. 

Don’t play Santa

Many of us see bringing gifts to our families and friends as an annual tradition. A sign that we remember our loved ones during this time of the year. However, with the threat of COVID-19, it will be more prudent to skip this routine for now. The idea of bringing a virus from one home to another should make us all reconsider our plans this year. 

Consider Online Shopping

One way to truly avoid the Christmas rush while still being able to purchase or send gifts is to use online apps. Shopping online and having items delivered has never been easier. There are a multitude of trustworthy online channels and delivery services that can cater to your needs. Spending time now to learn how to use them can lessen your trips on the road.

Whether you’re heading for the mall driving back to your province, make sure to spend some time checking out  your car’s condition. See if everything is in its optimal state. Check oil, coolant and washer fluid levels. Measure tire tread thickness and check for nails or foreign objects that might cause a flat along the way. While you are at it, do not forget to wear face masks and face shields and pack extra pieces as you need to replace these from time to time.  Always make it a practice to sanitize your hands, to avoid touching your face and eyes, and to observe social distancing wherever you go. 

Finally,  be aware of, and plan to comply with, prevailing local government regulations and requirements when heading for your homes outside the capital.

Everyone just wants to come home this Christmas. Just remember, what you really want to bring to your family and friends are gifts of joy and happiness.  And perhaps the greatest gift they’ll get this year… life. 

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