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 9 January 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.
Daily Covid-19 cases in the Philippines jumped to more than 5,400 on Tuesday from less than 200 on Dec. 21, including some infections caused by the Omicron variant, forcing the government to tighten curbs this week.
"We have seen how quickly Covid-19 spread after the holiday season...we are calling for a suspension of all mass gatherings," Health Secretary Francisco Duque said late on Tuesday.
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.
With more than 2.86 million cases and 51 604 deaths, the Philippines has the second highest Covid-19 infections and casualties in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.