Crowded festival season fuels coronavirus anxiety

By Linh Do   January 31, 2020 | 05:41 am PT
Crowded festival season fuels coronavirus anxiety
Thousands of spring pilgrims flood Perfume Pagoda in Hanoi late January 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh.
A buffalo-fight and poetry events have all been cancelled amid fears Vietnam’s  festival-packed lunar January may increase coronavirus infection.

Marked by almost 8,000 festivals nationwide with many staged during lunar January, Vietnam faces concerns about possible epidemics each year, with the new pneumonia coronavirus currently causing havoc worldwide.

In the past several days, tens of thousands of pilgrims have flocked to major religious shrines like Huong (Perfume) Pagoda in Hanoi and Tam Chuc Pagoda in northern Ha Nam Province to pray for a blessed new year amid seemingly little precaution.

For instance, at Perfume Pagoda, unsanitary venison remains on sale, while few pilgrims wear masks and many say nCoV won’t affect them.        

According to its management board, as many as 50,000 pilgrims visited the pagoda on Wednesday. Located about 60 km from Hanoi, older Tam Chuc Pagoda, which hosted last year’s UN Day of Vesak (Buddha’s birthday, enlightenment and passing away), is attracting from 70,000 to 100,000 pilgrims a day. 

Though in recent years local authorities managing religious festivals have tightened control, over-crowding traffic jams, careless waste dumping as well as unhygienic food trade remain a serious headache. 

Coupled with a cold and damp weather suited to bacteria and viruses, Vietnamese health officials view spring festivals as fertile breeding grounds for respiratory and digestive diseases such as measles, rubella and bird flu. 

To curb the ongoing nCoV epidemic, the Vietnamese government has halted all flights to nCoV-hit areas, suspending visas for visitors from these regions and quarantining Chinese workers returning to Vietnam after Lunar New Year. 

On  January 29, Politburo Member and Executive Secretary Tran Quoc Vuong instructed provincial authorities to prioritize the nCoV epidemic fight and halt public activities such as festivals and conferences if necessary.   

In response, Phu Tho provincial authorities will delay this year’s buffalo-fighting festival in Phu Ninh Commune held on the 8th and 9th every lunar January. 

The Vietnam Writers’ Association will also halt Vietnam Poetry Day scheduled for the 15th of  lunar January, known as the First Full-Moon of the Year, at different locations countrywide.

Originating in Wuhan City of Hubei Province in mainland China two months ago, the nCoV virus has spread to 20 other countries and territories, infecting more than 9,800 people and claiming 213 lives. 

No vaccine has yet been found to treat the disease and the World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global public health emergency. 

As of January 30 or Thursday afternoon, five people in Vietnam, including two Chinese and three locals, had been diagnosed with the infection. 

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