January 25 is the first day of the Lunar New Year, as countries across Asia greet the Year of the Rat.
Celebrations will be considerably smaller in China than in previous years, however, as authorities have canceled many large public gatherings in order to help contain the Wuhan coronavirus.
Authorities in Beijing have canceled all large-scale New Year celebrations “in order to control the epidemic.”
“It is decided to cancel all the large-scale events, including temple fairs, in Beijing as of today,” the city’s Culture and Tourism Bureau said Thursday.
“Citizens shall strengthen the preventative measures and support the decision. We will notify the policy changes with the epidemic development. After organizers will deal effectively with the effect of canceling the large-scale events. And wish all citizens a happy (Lunar New Year).”
Celebrations have also been canceled in Hong Kong, and many other cities have issued guidance to citizens to avoid large public gatherings.
In Wuhan, the city of 11 million at the center of the outbreak, a “temporary suspension” of public transport has been introduced, and people have been told not to leave, meaning they may not see their families during the Lunar New Year period.
This is easier said than done, however, and the scale of the challenge facing authorities tasked with implementing the blockade is immense. By way of comparison, the lockdown is akin to closing down all transport links for a city more than three times the size of Chicago, two days before Christmas.
“The Chinese new year is the most important festival for Chinese. And many of the mobile population, they’re coming from rural China to work in Wuhan, and now you ask them not to leave to see their relatives, that is difficult,” professor Yuen Kwok-yung, a leading microbiologist, told CNN.