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Taiwan considers fate of Lantern Festival amid COVID outbreak

MOTC might restrict number of visitors or move event online

A hand lantern from the Tourism Bureau. (CNA, Tourism Bureau photo)

A hand lantern from the Tourism Bureau. (CNA, Tourism Bureau photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Facing the threat of rapidly expanding COVID-19 clusters, the Lantern Festival might be changed to an online event only or see the number of visitors restricted, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) said Saturday (Jan. 22).

The colorful annual event was scheduled for Feb. 15-28 in Kaohsiung, where a COVID cluster outbreak has grown to at least 14 people, with its origin yet to be determined. One of the first local cases to be discovered had conducted repair work on a foreign-registered ship, which is suspected of being the source of the infection.

Transportation Minister Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) said at a news conference Saturday that he would closely monitor the development of the current outbreak before reaching a decision on the fate of the festival, CNA reported.

Work is still continuing on the site, with a trial scheduled for Feb. 14, the day before the official opening. If the COVID situation worsens, a maximum limit might be issued on the number of visitors, or the whole event could be moved online, Wang said.

Because of the pandemic, the Tourism Bureau recently canceled a news conference introducing the main lantern at the Kaohsiung festival, issuing a news release instead.

In a separate measure to counter the spread of the virus, the MOTC imposed a ban on eating and drinking on public transportation, which goes into effect Sunday (Jan. 23). Violating the ban could result in a fine ranging from NT$3,000 (US$108) to NT$15,000.