Advertisement

Worldwide Lunar New Year celebrations scaled back as new coronavirus spreads

20 million in China under lockdown as coronavirus spreads
WATCH ABOVE: 20 million in China under lockdown as coronavirus spreads

A new virus that started in China and is popping up around Asia and the world hung over the first day of the Year of the Rat.

Lunar New Year festivities were cancelled across mainland China on Saturday and scaled back in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, where residents also endured months of anti-government protests in the last lunar year.

READ MORE: China health officials say coronavirus death toll now 26, lockdown covers 25 million

The new coronavirus — from a family of viruses that also caused the deadly SARS epidemic in 2002-03 — didn’t stop everyone from going to temples, but many wore face masks as protection.

Other countries worldwide also celebrated under the shadow of the deadly virus.

CHINA

People wear masks as they walk past rat sculptures outside a shopping mall after Chinese New Year celebrations were cancelled in Beijing, China, 25 January 2020.
People wear masks as they walk past rat sculptures outside a shopping mall after Chinese New Year celebrations were cancelled in Beijing, China, 25 January 2020. EPA/WU HONG

Many people stayed home with temples, major tourist sites and movie theatres all shuttered as authorities sought to limit the spread of the virus.

Story continues below advertisement

Beijing cancelled all temple fairs, a popular tradition in northern China with performances, games for children and booths selling snacks and New Year’s-themed souvenirs.

Temples and parks were decorated with red streamers, paper lanterns and booths, and some places started dismantling the decor amid the cancellations.

Mask-wearing shoppers queue for groceries in Wuhan as coronavirus death toll rises
Mask-wearing shoppers queue for groceries in Wuhan as coronavirus death toll rises

People in Wuhan, where the outbreak started, and more than a dozen nearby cities are unable to move about easily or leave town after authorities shut down buses, trains and planes and set up roadblocks to limit the spread of the virus.

The Forbidden City in Beijing, Shanghai Disneyland and a major safari park are among the tourist destinations that have shut indefinitely.

HONG KONG

Worshippers wear face masks while praying at Wong Tai Sin Temple on the first day of the Lunar New Year of the Rat in Hong Kong, China, 25 January 2020.
Worshippers wear face masks while praying at Wong Tai Sin Temple on the first day of the Lunar New Year of the Rat in Hong Kong, China, 25 January 2020. EPA/JEROME FAVRE

Crowds of people, many in masks, lined up just before midnight on New Year’s Eve to leave lighted incense sticks and offer prayers at the Wong Tai Sin temple.

Story continues below advertisement

“The atmosphere of Lunar New Year is not as good as last year even if there’s no coronavirus,” said May Wen, wearing a blue face mask. “Some shops closed down, and people aren’t in the mood to go shopping.”

Hong Kong travelers worry about Wuhan virus ahead of holiday season
Hong Kong travelers worry about Wuhan virus ahead of holiday season

In an annual tradition, a press of worshipers jostled for position to try to be first in line to plant their incense sticks and say prayers. Some touched a large rat statue decorated with a big red bow.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

The city has cancelled a fireworks show and a four-day carnival that was set to begin Sunday because of concerns about the virus.

TAIWAN

People pray during the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations at a Taoist temple in Taipei, Taiwan, 25 January 2020. The Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival in China, falls on 25 January 2020, marking the beginning of the Year of the Rat.
People pray during the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations at a Taoist temple in Taipei, Taiwan, 25 January 2020. The Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival in China, falls on 25 January 2020, marking the beginning of the Year of the Rat. EPA/DAVID CHANG

Thousands of people, many wearing face masks because of the viral outbreak, visited Longshan Temple in Taipei, the capital city.

Story continues below advertisement

Many prayed in the central courtyard and worshiped the goddess Matsu, protector of fishermen, in the rear courtyard.

Taiwan has confirmed three cases of the virus, including a Taiwanese businessman who works in Wuhan and a Chinese woman who was part of a tour group from Wuhan.

NORTH KOREA

A group of government officials participate in a group exercises on the first official “sports day” of the new year at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Sunday, January 12, 2020.
A group of government officials participate in a group exercises on the first official “sports day” of the new year at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Sunday, January 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

North Koreans started Lunar New Year celebrations with a traditional show of loyalty and respect for former leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

It’s a ritual all over the country to lay flowers and bow to portraits and statues of the Kims, father and son, on public holidays.

READ MORE: China urges residents to avoid public gatherings as coronavirus deaths hit 17

Giant statues of the two men stand on Mansu Hill overlooking downtown Pyongyang, the capital, where people and military members placed single wrapped flowers, near dozens of bouquets, and bowed deeply or saluted.

Story continues below advertisement

Children went rollerblading, jumped rope or did more traditional kite-flying in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung square.

“Today our pupils get to know more about our traditional folk games, the customs of our folk holidays,” said Kim Il Sun, a teacher.

North Korea has closed its borders to foreigners to prevent the virus from entering the country.

MALAYSIA

Malaysian Chinese Buddhist devotees hold incense sticks during prayers at a Chinese temple on Chinese Lunar New Year’s day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 25 January 2020. The Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival in China, falls on 25 January 2020, marking the beginning of the Year of the Rat.
Malaysian Chinese Buddhist devotees hold incense sticks during prayers at a Chinese temple on Chinese Lunar New Year’s day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 25 January 2020. The Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival in China, falls on 25 January 2020, marking the beginning of the Year of the Rat. EPA/FAZRY ISMAIL

People at Kuala Lumpur’s Thean Hou Temple placed sticks of incense in giant holders and prayed with them below a canopy of red and yellow Chinese lanterns decorated with rats.

Photography student Rohit Kirby said it was an occasion for people to get together with their family and friends.

FRANCE

Members of the Chinese community dance with costumes to mark the Chinese New Year at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Saturday Jan. 25, 2020. This year marks the “Year of the Rat” in the Chinese Lunar calendar.
Members of the Chinese community dance with costumes to mark the Chinese New Year at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Saturday Jan. 25, 2020. This year marks the “Year of the Rat” in the Chinese Lunar calendar. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

A crowd gathered as dragon dances and drummers celebrated the new year under the Eiffel Tower.

Story continues below advertisement

France confirmed three cases of the virus Friday, the first in Europe.

READ MORE: Australia, France confirm first cases of coronavirus as U.S. announces 2nd

Patrick Branco Ruivo, director of Societe d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, the company that operates the tower, said the event was “a way of saying that we are with them” as China struggles with the outbreak.

He said there is no panic and people from across the world are visiting the tower.

CUBA

People take part in the Chinese Lunar New Year’s eve celebrations at the Chinese neighborhood in Havana, Cuba, 24 January 2020. The Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival in China, falls on 25 January 2020, marking the beginning of the Year of the Rat.
People take part in the Chinese Lunar New Year’s eve celebrations at the Chinese neighborhood in Havana, Cuba, 24 January 2020. The Lunar New Year, also known as Spring Festival in China, falls on 25 January 2020, marking the beginning of the Year of the Rat. EPA/YANDER ZAMORA

In Cuba, a small Chinese community celebrated Lunar New Year with a colorful parade, brightly lit lanterns and a dragon dancing its way through the narrow streets of Chinatown.

Tourists, locals and Chinese-Cuban descendants clapped and wriggled to the dragon dance, held colorful lanterns and cheered effigies of Chinese characters.

Story continues below advertisement
How airports are screening for the coronavirus
How airports are screening for the coronavirus

The island once had one of the largest and oldest Chinese communities in the Americas, with the first arrivals coming in the 1850s to work in the sugar cane fields.

Now much smaller, the community celebrates holidays with an island twist, blending rum and cigars with traditional Chinese fare and love of music.

Chinese tourist Saline Xie said she was “happy because for us, it’s a new year,” though the virus cast a pall over celebrations.