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Thousands turn out for Vancouver Lunar New Year parade despite coronavirus concerns

Coronavirus outbreak: Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations cancelled in Chicago
While the Lunar New Year is a major holiday in Chinese culture, celebrations around the world, including in Chicago, are being cancelled due to mounting fears about the spread of the novel coronavirus.

One of Canada’s largest Lunar New Year festivals went ahead in Vancouver’s Chinatown on Sunday despite mounting concerns about the Wuhan coronavirus.

The Vancouver Chinatown Spring Festival Parade snaked its way through the community with several large lion dance troupes and local community groups taking part, delighting the thousands of spectators who lined the streets.

But the parade, which was celebrating its 47th year in Vancouver, nearly didn’t happen as the coronavirus continues to spread and the death toll in China rises.

Ontario confirms first presumptive case of corona virus in Canada
Ontario confirms first presumptive case of corona virus in Canada

Parade coordinator Jun Ing said organizers held an emergency meeting Saturday where they agreed to let the popular event go ahead.

“There’s always going to be a risk, but the risk wasn’t so huge that we could not go on,” he said.

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Ing said despite the decision to carry on, roughly a dozen teams pulled out of the parade ahead of time.

READ MORE: Lunar New Year events cancelled in B.C. over concerns of Wuhan coronavirus spread

Participants and spectators were also told that if they have travelled to China recently, they should consider not attending.

That warning didn’t appear to sway the crowd, however, which packed Chinatown to take in the eye-catching lion dances and live musical performances.

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Among the more notable attendees included NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and other members of the federal and provincial governments.

Ing said it was important for the parade to be held regardless of the health scare.

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“It’s a tradition,” he said. “This is the 47th year. It’s not going to be cancelled on my watch.”

Health officials and event organizers have been on high alert as the Lunar New Year coincided with the outbreak of the deadly respiratory illness, which has killed at least 56 people in China and infected nearly 2,000 people in a little over a week.

READ MORE: Coronavirus risk remains low in Canada despite first presumptive case: health officials

With families travelling from China to Canada to ring in the new year with relatives, enhanced screenings were put in place at airports in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal asking all international travellers if they have been to Wuhan.

At least two events in the Lower Mainland — one at the Semiahmoo Mall in South Surrey, and another at a Langley church — were both cancelled Saturday due to concerns attendees may bring the virus from China.

Wuhan has been on lockdown since late Wednesday, with the military blocking access to roads, train stations and airports. Nearly all deaths linked to the disease have originated from the city and the surrounding Hubei province.

Coronavirus outbreak: London’s Lunar New Year celebrations overshadowed by virus fears
Coronavirus outbreak: London’s Lunar New Year celebrations overshadowed by virus fears

Sixteen other surrounding cities have also been locked down, with all travel halted to those cities.

Ontario Health officials announced Saturday that a man in his 50s had been diagnosed with a “presumptive” case of coronavirus in Toronto, marking Canada’s first case.

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Five cases have now been confirmed in the U.S. after officials announced two cases in California and a single case in Arizona on Sunday.

READ MORE: Coronavirus death toll rises to 80 in China as U.S. prepares to evacuate citizens

The U.S. is planning to evacuate diplomats and private citizens from Wuhan on Tuesday. Canada has not yet announced similar measures.

B.C. health officials and agencies including the Ministry of Health and the BC Centre for Disease Control say the risk to British Columbians is “very low,” and have yet to confirm any cases.

Officials say they won’t speculate on potential cases, only saying that no travellers who have reported respiratory symptoms at YVR airport have tested positive for the coronavirus.