CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Friday marks the start of the Lunar New Year, but the pandemic and safety concerns have subdued celebrations around the world.
Festivities for the holiday, normally East Asia’s busiest tourism season, are muted after China, Vietnam, Taiwan and other governments tightened travel curbs and urged the public to avoid big gatherings following renewed virus outbreaks.
In China, Buddhist and Daoist temples that usually are packed with worshippers for the holiday were closed. Streets in major cities were largely empty.
The government’s appeal to China’s public to avoid travel is expected to hurt airlines, hotels and gift sellers. But economists say the overall impact might be limited if factories, shops and farms keep operating instead of shutting down for two weeks as they usually do.
The Commerce Ministry said it found 48 million more people in Chinese cities planned to celebrate where they live this year instead of traveling to their hometowns or tourist spots.
Departures from Beijing’s two major airports Wednesday were down 75% from last year, the government reported.
Chinese state TV’s national broadcast Thursday focused on celebrating Chinese medical workers and the country’s space program. It’s been a television staple since it was first broadcast in 1983, and it typically draws hundreds of millions of viewers. But the gala has come under fire this year for a performance featuring dancers in blackface.
The “African Song and Dance” performance came at start of the Spring Festival Gala, and included dancers in African-style costumes and dark face makeup beating drums.
On Twitter, Black Livity China, a group for people of African descent who work in or with China, called the broadcast “extremely disappointing.” It noted CCTV’s 2018 Spring Festival Gala featured performers in blackface with a monkey.
“We cannot stress enough the impact scenes such as these have on African and Afro-diasporic communities living in China,” the group said.
Organizations and advocates for Africans in China also lambasted the show.
“While supporters of the practice allege that blackface centers on empathy & realism, it’s difficult to disassociate it from a long history of minstrelsy & fixation on problematic caricatures,” Black China Caucus, an activist group, said on Twitter.
“Next year, we hope organizers decide to end this practice & hire some of thousands of Black people living in many parts of China.”
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A representative for CCTV could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, in Taiwan, many are celebrating at home. Taiwanese merchants said this year’s sales are up 10%-20% because people are hosting family dinners instead of traveling abroad.
“Business this year is good. We have even more people,” said a sausage vendor in the capital, Taipei, who would give only his surname, Tsai. “People stay home and prepare food for year-end dinner to share with friends and family.”
In Australia, Sydney officials unveiled on Friday two new Ox lanterns, signifying the name of the year in the Chinese zodiac, at the entrance of its Chinatown precinct.
Designed by artist Chrissy Lau, the 2.4-metre (8.2-ft) -tall lanterns take inspiration from the Japanese “maneki-neko” beckoning cat. They join 11 zodiac animal lanterns placed around the harbour city during the Lunar New Year.
Sydney’s festivities, which drew nearly 1.5 million visitors in 2019, are among the world’s largest, although virus curbs and closed borders have reduced numbers.
“We look forward to this pandemic ending in the new year, borders opening again, and more tourists coming from overseas,” said Eric Wong, who runs the city’s Golden Century seafood restaurant.
In the absence of tourists, Sydney authorities are encouraging citizens to visit Chinatown and help boost businesses recovering from the pandemic.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. All reporting by AP’s Joe McDonald, Emily Wang Fujiyama and Ng Han Guan; as well as Reuters’ James Redmayne, Tom Daly and Se Young Lee.