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'Bating Filipino': MPs in Philippines pass bill to create new Covid-safe greeting

Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

House lawmakers in the Philippines have passed a bill to legislate a new, Covid-safe form of greeting in an effort to reduce contact during the pandemic.

According to the bill approved by the House of Representatives, the new gesture will involve “gracefully laying the palm of the right hand over the centre of one’s chest while simultaneously lowering the head, with eyes either closed or cast down”.

The traditional handshake, while well meaning, was a risk to public health, said Representative Bayani Fernando, who proposed the bill. He called the new greeting “Bating Filipino”.

Across the world, countries have looked for new forms of greetings, from elbow bumps to footshakes, in an effort to reduce transmission of the coronavirus. In France, the health minister, Olivier Véran, told people in March last year to avoid hugs and kisses, while Italians were advised to be “a bit less expansive” when greeting one another.

In Thailand, which has managed to keep case numbers below 13,000, some have speculated that the wai – where the palms are pressed together in a prayer-like gesture – might have contributed to the country’s success in reducing local transmissions.

The bill in the Philippines needs to be passed by the senate and signed by the president before it is passed into law. It doesn’t specify any punishment for people who don’t adopt the greeting.

The Philippines has struggled to control the coronavirus and is one of the worst-affected countries in south-east Asia, despite imposing a harsh lockdown last year.

On Thursday, the department of health announced 1,783 new cases, while the death toll rose to 10,115.

In some areas of the country, restrictions have been eased so that, from February, children aged 10 years and over will be allowed to go outside. Previously, they were only allowed to leave their homes for essentials such as exercise or to access medical care. Children under 10 and people over 65 are still required to stay home.

Some have questioned the need for legislation on hand gestures, given that many are already living with restrictions on their movement, and have argued that politicians should instead focus on speeding up the rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The Philippines announced plans to buy 20m doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, adding to its supply of 72m doses from AstraZeneca, Novavax and Sinovac.