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Worldwide Lunar New Year celebrations scaled back as new 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.

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 theatres all shuttered as authorities sought to limit the spread of the virus.

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.

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.

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