New virus mutes Lunar New Year celebrations worldwide

BEIJING (AP) — 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 canceled 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.

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.


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

Beijing canceled 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.

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.


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.

“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.”

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.

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


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

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 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.

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.

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.


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.


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

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

Patrick Branco Ruivo, director of Société 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.


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.

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.


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