Cyril Viray and her kids Lovelle, 4, and Isaiah, 6 months, have their sanitation kit.

My 5-year-old daughter grabbed my hand tightly as she carefully put one foot, then the other, on the escalator. She stared at her feet before looking up and gleefully declaring, “This is like a ride!”

Her eyes were the size of saucers, soaking in everything she saw in the mall we used to frequent before the pandemic.

Our experience was not unique.

Parents have been sharing stories about their children’s first trip to the mall after the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases lowered the quarantine restrictions to alert level 2. Their children, like mine, were fascinated by the escalators. They enjoyed a visit to the toy store and trying on clothes again. Some of these accounts were shared in private Facebook groups such as Kids Are Allowed (KAA) and Pwede Bata, which are dedicated to identifying safe places that allow children during COVID.

Tagaytay was the spot most recommended in recent months. But since the city does not allow children in any of the establishments at alert level 3, parents have had to settle on trips to its outskirts. They brought their children to the same places: Angelfields Nature Sanctuary, Yoki’s Farm, Balinsasayaw and Cheza’s Cliff View.

Those on a budget trooped to the bay walk on Roxas Boulevard and the outdoor spaces of Ayala Malls Manila Bay and Mall of Asia.

The Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City, Antipolo and Rizal became a haven for children in the northern part of Metro Manila. For long weekends, those with the means drove to the beaches of Batangas and Zambales for a hotel stay. Others have gone all the way up to Baguio so their kids could shop in SM’s toy stores there.

Right time to go

Some parents were at their breaking point. The children had been isolated in the safety of their homes for almost 20 months. Even public parks did not allow children.

Alert level 2 presented freedom. But it is also a lesson on how to live with COVID-19.

“We want our daughter to get used to the ‘new normal’—what protocols to observe, how to interact safely—because we know we’ll be in this situation for a long time,” said Jo Anne Ochoa. She and her husband, Inquirer Sports editor Francis Ochoa, brought their 6-year-old Annika Isabelle to SM Makati and Glorietta as a surprise. As a precaution, they went to the mall early. They ate a heavy breakfast at home so they wouldn’t have to take off their masks to eat in the mall.

Parents chose to go to the mall this past weekend because they feared that this freedom could be short-lived. National Capital Region could be placed on a higher alert level if COVID-19 cases surge again.

Anika Isabelle Ochoa visits a toy store for the first time in two years.

“We wore masks and face shields and always sanitized our hands whenever we touched something. We maintained social distancing the whole time,” Jo Anne said.

Finding the right time is the strategy most parents employ to avoid the crowds. It could be the first hour of mall opening or at night when most mall-

goers are already leaving or having their dinner.

Choice of mall

Cyril Viray also took her kids, ages 4 years and 6 months, to the mall this weekend. She undertook the necessary precautions.

“I made them take their vitamins and made them wear face masks. Masks had to be changed every two hours,” she said. She had a kit that contained wipes, alcohol and sanitizers. They also immediately took a bath as soon as they got home.

The choice of mall is also important, said Viray, who noted that Robinsons Magnolia strictly enforces the wearing of masks and face shields at all times. The protocols are also posted on the mall’s Facebook page, thus she knew what to expect.

Mariel Perez and her children, ages 5 and 12, avoided malls she knew would be crowded. The FB groups like KAA inform parents if there are too many people at a certain mall.

“We avoided places like Timezone because we knew that there were plenty of kids there,” Perez said. “My children were content just to be out and to shop again.”

(Meanwhile, on TikTok, somebody posted a video of a scene in a Makati mall, where a thick crowd milled at a kids’ event. There was no social distancing.)

‘Arinola’ on the go

Preparation is key to every step. Instagrammer Theresa Lim-Mendoza (@tetadventurer) said people should avoid going out on a payday. Her family’s safety practices include double masking and wearing air purifier necklaces. They use Lysol to spray on their shoes before going inside the car. And they bring extra clothes.

“We bring our own chamber pot (arinola) in the car so we won’t need to use the public restroom,” she said.

Makeup artist Jhelai Coquilla brought her family to the mall on the second day of alert level 2. Her children are ages 7, 9, and 13. She said that because her children are older, they are more aware of the protocols.

“We tried dining in. Vaccination cards must be ready because restaurants refuse to accommodate children with unvaccinated adults,” she said.

However, Coquilla said she felt judged by other mallgoers because she brought her kids to the mall. She reasoned, “I would not put my children in danger. I made sure we followed protocols.” INQ

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