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Coronavirus fears fail to dampen Chinese new year celebrations

Revellers in London welcomed the Year of the Rat.

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Lion dance performers during the Chinese new year parade (Yui Mok/PA)

Lion dance performers during the Chinese new year parade (Yui Mok/PA)

Lion dance performers during the Chinese new year parade (Yui Mok/PA)

Thousands of revellers, including many from China, celebrated Chinese new year in central London despite worries about coronavirus spreading to the UK.

Many people welcoming the Year of the Rat in the biggest celebration for the lunar festival outside China were wearing filter masks to protect themselves against the respiratory virus.

But coronavirus worries did not dampen festivities, as a 50-foot golden dragon and a bagpipe procession travelled from Charing Cross to Chinatown where hundreds of red lanterns lined the streets.

Outside restaurants and cafes in Chinatown, people were queuing down the street, and many gathered to watch firecrackers heralding the start of the celebrations in Trafalgar Square.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office has urged Britons trapped in the Hubei province of China, which has been on lockdown for several days following the coronavirus outbreak, to leave the area if they are able to.

Chinese student Siyan Li, from Shandong, was wearing a face mask as she celebrated in Chinatown because she was “afraid” of the virus.

The 22-year-old Nottingham University student said: “China has advised everyone to stay at home and not come out. I’m afraid.

“I don’t know if there are many people with this kind of fear, but I think this (the mask) is a good way to protect myself.”

Conan Zhao, 35, and his wife Daisy Huang, 27, were holidaying in London for Chinese new year and were also wearing masks as “a precaution”.

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Spectators watch the parade in central London which mark the start of the Year of the Rat (Yui Mok/PA)

Spectators watch the parade in central London which mark the start of the Year of the Rat (Yui Mok/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Spectators watch the parade in central London which mark the start of the Year of the Rat (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Zhao, from Shenzhen in China, said: “The most important thing is self-protection – you need to protect yourself, but there is no need to worry.”

He added: “We came here for Chinese new year, and it’s our first time in London.

“Chinese people have come to London for a very long time and we wanted to see how people celebrate Chinese new year here.”

Lily Ferreira and Katerina Jelinkova, two volunteers helping to manage the festivities for the London Chinatown Chinese Association (LCCA), said they were worried about the effect of the virus on their performers from China.

Miss Ferreira, a 25-year-old music and business student from Portugal who was wearing a mask, said: “Some of our performers came from China, so we were worried about getting them here, but it hasn’t been a problem.”

Miss Jelinkova, 22, from Czech Republic, said she would wear a mask in central London anyway because of air pollution.

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A performer wears a face mask under her costume (Yui Mok/PA)

A performer wears a face mask under her costume (Yui Mok/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

A performer wears a face mask under her costume (Yui Mok/PA)

Phillip Rowell, a British scriptwriter who lived in Hong Kong and Singapore during the Sars virus outbreak in 2003, said he was not worried about another respiratory virus from the region.

Mr Rowell, 49, who was celebrating with his wife and son, said: “We lived through a few of those things in Asia, we had Sars when we were there and I always think it looks worse on the news.

“I’m sure it’s serious, but the numbers (of those infected) are actually quite low at the moment, so I wasn’t really worried about being around Chinese people or anything like that.

“We had breakfast in a Chinese dim sum place this morning, it was packed, people were waiting for tables, there was no sense of people staying away.”

He added he has “faith in the Chinese government” because they “learned their lesson” after Sars, which killed 774 people in 17 countries.

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A young girl in the crowd plays with her own dragon dance toy (Yui Mok/PA)

A young girl in the crowd plays with her own dragon dance toy (Yui Mok/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

A young girl in the crowd plays with her own dragon dance toy (Yui Mok/PA)

Elaine Lui, a Newcastle University media student from south-east China, also said she was confident precautions in China would help to tackle the virus.

She said: “I have a friend in Wuhan but I’m not worried. The Chinese people, we will protect ourselves and also protect everyone else.”

Suzanne Corbin, 64, from Whitstable, Kent, said she “definitely” thought about coronavirus before coming to the festival, but “decided the risk was really low”.

She said: “I come every year because I love the tradition of the Chinese new year.

“I love the dragons, the dancing, the noise, the celebration of spring. There’s a lot of people out enjoying it.”

PA