Crackdown leads to steep drop in New Year's Eve injuries in the Philippines

A child injured by firecracker is seen at the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center in Manila.
A child injured by firecracker is seen at the Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center in Manila.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - A government crackdown on fireworks slashed the number of injuries from the New Year revelry in the Philippines by more than half, health officials reported on Monday (Jan 1).

In a news conference, Health Secretary Francisco Duque reported that 191 injuries from firecrackers were tallied from Dec 21 to Jan 1. That compared with 524 in the same period a year earlier.

"We are relatively pleased, relative because there are still injuries, but pleased because of the substantial reduction or decrease in fireworks-related injuries," said Mr Duque.

He credited the drop to a police crackdown on firecrackers banned for approximating the power of explosive devices.

President Rodrigo Duterte's orders restricting the use of firecrackers to "community zones" and threatening to sack policemen caught sporadically firing their guns in the air also helped, he said.

The restrictions, though, have led to a more muted welcome to the new year in metropolitan Manila.

Previously, streets would be engulfed in the popping of firecrackers for hours, in the run-up to midnight of Dec 31. Roads and alleys became "war zones", as people spent thousands of pesos on fireworks and pyrotechnics - some with colourful names such as "Judas' belt" - to put up the loudest and most elaborate display in their neighbourhoods.

By early morning, a thick fog and the acrid smell of gunpowder would blanket Manila.

These loud, boisterous celebrations, however, had also made the Philippines among the most dangerous places in the world to mark the new year.

In 2012, at least four people were killed and more than 1,000 injured by firecrackers and stray bullets in the country's deadliest New Year's Eve celebration in 20 years.

This year, many streets were silent, as revellers stuck to their designated areas. A city north of Manila known as a hub of fireworks makers reported a 70 per cent drop in sales of firecrackers.

Mr Duque said there was one incident of a stray bullet hitting a 10-year-old boy, but no one died. There were also no cases of minors ingesting firecrackers.

He added that there only seven cases that required amputation, mostly of fingers and hands, from 19 a year earlier.

The youngest victim was an 11-month-old baby, while the oldest was 96 years old.