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Rattled by coronavirus, Chinese communities cancel Lunar New Year plans

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The rapid spread of a new virus from China has cast a pall across Chinese American communities, with people staying inside whenever possible, wearing medical masks when they must go out and canceling some celebrations for Lunar New Year, China’s biggest holiday.

Those actions became the new normal this week, when the count neared 12,000 people infected by a new coronavirus that originated in China and spread to other countries. More than 250 have died in China. The precautions were on display Friday in a string of majority-Asian population cities in Southern California — Alhambra, San Gabriel and Arcadia — that are linked together just east of Los Angeles.

“Business is way down. Everybody is staying inside and lots of people are wearing masks,” said Leo Peng at Beyond Services in Alhambra, a normally bustling business where people can notarize documents, get fingerprinted and use other services needed to obtain forms of identification.

Peng himself says he has become diligent about washing his hands and is thinking about getting a mask, “although some people say they’re really not necessary.”

Sitting just a few feet away at a computer terminal was Cynthia Bao, wearing a bright pink mask.

“I never wear a mask, but I’m pregnant, and I don’t want to get the coronavirus or the flu or any virus,” she said.

In San Francisco’s Chinatown, Hoa Nguyen and her husband were among the few people wearing masks as they waited at a bus stop carrying bags loaded with fruits and vegetables.

“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” she said. “In Chinatown, there’s a higher chance you might come across someone who has traveled to China recently.”

While people are taking personal precautions, organizers are going a step further by canceling Lunar New Year celebrations in parts of the U.S.

Sponsors of Saturday’s annual festival in Alhambra announced they were postponing it indefinitely. The event normally draws thousands and shuts down the city’s main thoroughfare for blocks, featuring a parade, games, music, food booths and other events.

Other cancellations include a Lunar New Year Temple Bazaar this weekend in Flushing, Queens, home to New York City’s largest Chinatown; a Lunar New Year celebration Saturday at a high school in Rockville, Maryland; a Chinese New Year Festival on Saturday at the University of Arizona in Tucson; and festivities Friday in the city of Elk Grove, outside Sacramento.

San Francisco still plans to go along with its celebration on Feb. 8, though officials said they are closely monitoring the outbreak.

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