MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine authorities have cancelled an annual procession, which normally draws millions of Catholic devotees accompanying a black wooden statue of Jesus Christ through the streets of Manila, for a second straight year due to coronavirus concerns.
The government’s coronavirus task force cancelled the “Black Nazerene” procession, which is one of the country’s largest religious festivals, before celebrations related to the Jan. 9 procession, were due to start on Friday because of rising COVID-19 infections.
Unlike last year, there will be no in-person masses in the church housing the centuries-old statue, and police will be deployed to discourage people from gathering outside the building, authorities said.
“We understand (the cancellation) for our safety and health reasons,” Father Douglas Badong, Parochial Vicar of Quiapo Church, told a news conference. He said physical masses will take place in other provinces and online masses for devotees in the capital.
In prior years, devotees clad in yellow and maroon have thronged the life-sized tatute as it is paraded through the streets of Manila aboard a rope-pulled carriage.
The health ministry on Wednesday reported 10,775 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily spike since Oct. 10, and more then 60 times the 168 cases recorded on Dec. 21.
The tally, which was nearly double the day before, brought total cases to over 2.86 million, and deaths to more than 51,600, the second highest COVID-19 infections and casualties in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.
Acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles urged areas outside the capital region to step up vaccinations amid the threat of the Omicron variant which had already prompted the government to tighten curbs this week.
“The numbers clearly show these can prevent serious cases of COVID,” Nograles said in a statement.
The Philippines has so far detected 14 domestic and imported cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant that has driven up COVID-19 case counts and dampened New Year festivities around much of the world.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Ed Davies)