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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - SINGAPORE: There were no streetlights nor traditional dragon dances to welcome Lunar New Year in Singapore’s Chinatown on Friday, as the government has introduced new rules to halt the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during the typically crowded celebrations.
Decorated with sculptures, golden coins, ingots, flowers and banners with New Year’s greetings, several of the most-prominent Chinatown streets have been barricaded to prevent overcrowding, with authorities ordering festive lamps to be turned off for the holiday weekend.
Restrictions affect two-thirds of Singapore’s 5.69 million population, who are ethnic Chinese and traditionally organize large family gatherings during the festive season. This year, households can have no more than eight visitors and are not allowed to visit more than two houses a day.
On Thursday, the eve of the Year of the Ox, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said stricter measures were necessary as the virus was still rapidly spreading around the world.
“This January, we saw the new waves of infection caused by year-end celebrations in many countries, where many people gathered and let their guard down,” Lee said.
He added that in 2021, Singapore should be able to offer COVID-19 vaccine shots to its citizens who “can look forward to more carefree celebrations when the pandemic is over.”
He added: “The Year of the Ox brings new hope.”
Singaporeans say they share Loong’s hope.
“I just hope COVID-19 will end, I think that’s the only thing that everybody is hoping for in the Year of Ox,” said Nicole, a young Singaporean who always goes to Chinatown for New Year’s shopping.
“Chinatown does not feel like it is in the Chinese New Year period, it feels more like a typical weekday. I feel like the business is slowing down as well.”
Business owners, too, say they are struggling.
“This year is very, very quiet,” said Tan, a pomelo fruit seller who has been in the business for the past 30 years.
“It is very bad, you can see there is no New Year atmosphere, no lighting, there are no large crowds like previous years,” he said. “My business sales suffered. There is at least a 70 percent drop compared to last year.”
Edmond, who would also visit Chinatown for shopping, said there was no festive mood at all this year.
“I came to Chinatown to buy some traditional Chinese clothes, but the mood is very different now,” he said, recalling how there used to be lights, activities, and a lot of people selling food as if it were a “big night market.”
Another shopper, Henry, told Arab News that he had dropped by Chinatown to find that the “atmosphere is actually quite bad” without lights and he would opt for a quiet New Year celebration at home.
“I will be staying at home and watching TV and spending time with the family, and not go out to visit so many places,” he said.
“My family usually would hold a large family gathering during the festive season, but this year we may have fewer relatives coming to visit us, and we may have to divide a few days for house visits due to the government restrictions.”
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