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Taipei, Feb. 26 (CNA) The Dajia Matsu pilgrimage, the largest annual religious procession in Taiwan, will still be held this year despite concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, its organizer said Wednesday.
The procession, which lasts nine days, is held yearly to celebrate the birthday of the sea goddess Matsu and features the Matsu statue of Taichung's Jenn Lann Temple being carried on the shoulders of worshipers throughout central Taiwan.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gather along the more than 340-kilometer route that travels through Taichung, Changhua County, Yunlin County, and Chiayi County to celebrate the occasion and receive blessings from the goddess.
As the novel coronavirus epidemic shows no signs of abating, however, there have been concerns that a religious gathering of this scale could spark an outbreak, especially as cluster infections linked to churches have popped up in South Korea and Singapore.
After discussing the issue, Jenn Lann Temple Chairman Yen Ching-piao (顏清標) said Wednesday that unless the central government instructs otherwise, the procession will be held this year as scheduled from March 19 to March 28.
Several prominent events that are part of the celebration, however, will be canceled, Yen said, including an outdoor banquet that more than 10,000 people attended last year, a concert and a ceremony held at Fengtien Temple in Chiayi.
The central government has yet to provide any specific guidance on the pilgrimage.
Deputy Interior Minister Chen Tsung-yen (陳宗彥) would only say Wednesday that his ministry believes that large religious events should be carefully assessed, and that organizers should have backup plans ready if an event needs to be postponed.
On the Dajia Matsu Pilgrimage specifically, Chen said the ministry has communicated with temple officials, who have proposed alternative solutions to certain aspects of the procession, including how they will carry the sedan chair.