MEXICO CITY -- Wearing miniature face masks and clutching tiny bottles of hand sanitizer, dolls representing the baby Jesus are being given a COVID-19 theme in a pandemic-era twist to a Mexican tradition.
Every Feb. 2, Mexican Catholics mark Candlemas, the day when according to their tradition Christ was presented in the temple in Jerusalem.
It is usually an occasion for families to celebrate and to dig deep into the imagination to create new outfits for baby Jesus dolls. It's similar to how Filipinos dress the Sto. Nino to match the occasion.
This year's trend is "COVID Child" -- a sign of the times in the Latin American country, which has reported more than 150,000 coronavirus deaths, one of the world's highest tolls.
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At a store in Mexico City's historic district, dolls roughly the size of a newborn baby peer out at shoppers from behind their small masks and face shields.
Some are dressed in medical gowns while others wear white laboratory coats and even stethoscopes.
The idea is to "pay tribute to the doctors and nurses who are on the front line of this pandemic," said manager Felipe Garrido.
"It's also to raise awareness so people understand that this is not a game and that we're going through a very difficult situation," he added.
"As we're very religious people, when we leave home and do the sign of the cross and turn to see the baby Jesus it reminds us that we must leave with a face shield, mask and hand sanitizer."
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Protecting loved ones
Despite a partial lockdown in the capital, customers still trickle into the store and others like it to buy the pandemic-themed clothes for their dolls.
Aline Villegas, a 26-year-old physiotherapist, was buying "COVID Child" for her father, a doctor, who always puts a baby Jesus on an altar in his office.
"He's helping many patients with COVID-19, and I'm protecting him," she said.
Previous themes for the baby Jesus dolls include football players, to the consternation of the Catholic Church.
Inside the store, social distancing is strictly observed and the entry of customers is controlled.
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But outside is a different matter.
A crowd, including many people without masks, throngs the streets.
Shops have been allowed to reopen in the historic center despite the suspension of non-essential activities in the capital, where coronavirus cases continue to soar.
Those infected include 67-year-old President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who after months of refusing to wear a mask announced on Sunday that he had COVID-19, though he said his symptoms were mild.
Mexico City authorities say the spike in cases is largely due to people gathering during Christmas and the New Year, despite a plea from the Church for people to mark the occasion at home.