11 July 2024

MANILA (Reuters) – Wearing blue surgical masks amid a coronavirus outbreak, 220 couples exchanged vows and kisses in the central Philippines to launch their married lives.

Lovers and their relatives braved the virus, which has killed 2,236 people, to attend Thursday’s mass ceremony sponsored by the coastal city of Bacolod.

The lobby of city hall was a sea of white shirts and gowns, dotted with the blue of the masks, which were mandatory for all, and provided by the authorities.

“It feels different to kiss while wearing masks, but it was required,” said John Paul Inventor, 39, who married his partner of seven years and the mother of their two children.

“The place was jam-packed.”

Participants had to complete health declarations detailing a travel history for 14 days, the quarantine period across the globe for arrivals from China, and the maximum incubation time for the virus.

“If our families are strong, the city of Bacolod becomes strong, too,” said Mayor Evelio Leonardia, who officiated at the function.

Annual mass weddings are a post-Valentine’s Day tradition in the city, with a record 2,013 couples participating in 2013.

Mass weddings are also a distinguishing feature for a church in South Korea that prepared hand sanitizer and handed out surgical masks for some of the roughly 30,000 people who attended a ceremony this month.

The Philippines has recorded the first coronavirus death outside China, among three infections, all of Chinese nationals, but at least three dozen of its citizens based overseas have caught the virus.