[Photo story] A muzzled anxious start to the Rat Year in China

Chinese New Year is usually a time of celebration and feasting, with the festivities stretching all through the first fifteen days of the first lunar month. This year, however, the arrival of the Wuhan coronavirus has put a significant dampener on what is generally the biggest festival of the year for the Chinese. ThinkChina offers a glimpse into the muted welcome for the Year of the Rat.
Visitors offer up prayers on the first day of the first lunar month at Wong Tai Sin temple in Hong Kong, 25 January 2020. (Dale de la Rey/AFP)
Visitors offer up prayers on the first day of the first lunar month at Wong Tai Sin temple in Hong Kong, 25 January 2020. (Dale de la Rey/AFP)

It was just as 2020 came around, when the world first heard of a new and deadly coronavirus that originated in Wuhan. Since then, as of the time of writing, there have been 7,251 confirmed cases and 170 deaths. For the world's second-largest economy, already in a trade war with the US, the impact of this fresh blow has been significant.

Tourist sites have been closed, transport services halted, and the Chinese government has ordered a lockdown on Wuhan and other cities since 23 January. Companies such as tech giant Tencent have told employees to work from home, while hotpot restaurant chain Haidilao will close all its restaurants in China until the end of the month. Swedish furniture giant Ikea said on 29 January 29 that it had closed all of its 30 stores in mainland China until further notice. McDonald's has shut 300 outlets in China, including all of its branches in Hubei. Domestic and international group tours have been cancelled, while Chinese travellers have been advised to put overseas trips on hold.

Then there is the stigma. Notices have gone up in various establishments in Japan and South Korea turning away visitors from China, while at least one high school in Paris has withdrawn its invitation to a group of students who were set to arrive this week. In Denmark, the Jyllands-Posten newspaper ran an editorial cartoon depicting the Chinese flag with virus symbols instead of stars, prompting the Chinese Embassy there to request an apology, which was denied.

Experts in China and elsewhere have offered different views on how long the coronavirus will take to peak, ranging from a matter of weeks to a few months, perhaps April or May. The only thing that is sure for now is that the coronavirus from Wuhan remains a dark cloud that has yet to break.

kunshan train station
A man sleeps as he waits for a train at Kunshan Railway Station, 17 January 2020. The movement of people during the Chinese New Year period is usually the greatest human migration of the year. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)
shanghai train station
A man totes his belongings on a pole in Shanghai Railway Station, 17 January 2020. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)
shanghai bus station
A relatively uncrowded scene at the Shanghai Long-Distance Bus Passenger Transport Terminal, 17 January 2020. (Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)
beijing airport
Travellers wearing masks at Beijing Capital International Airport, 22 January 2020. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)
wuhan hospital
Medical staff in protective suits at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital, 25 January 2020, the first day of the first lunar month. The Year of the Rat opened under the shadow of the Wuhan coronavirus. (Hector Retamal/AFP)
forbidden city
A man stands against a deserted Forbidden City in the background. The Chinese government has closed the Forbidden City and a section of the Great Wall, as well as cancelled public events and shut public venues such as cinemas, in an effort to control the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)
CNY msgs
A man reads Chinese New Year messages at Jingshawn Park, Beijing, overlooking the Forbidden City, 25 January 2020. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)
beijing
A man walks past a Chinese New Year decoration outside the Forbidden City in Beijing, 25 January 2020, the first day of the first lunar month. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)
wuhan1
Nearly deserted streets in Wuhan, Hubei, 26 January 2020, following a ban on non-essential vehicles by the local government. The Chinese government has implemented a lockdown on Wuhan and other cities since 23 January. (Reuters)
wuhan2
An empty road in Wuhan, 27 January 2020. China’s cabinet announced that morning that it would extend the Chinese New Year public holiday to 2 February, in a bid to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus by limiting large gatherings. (Hector Retamal/AFP))
beijing cafe
A bar in Beijing is empty except for a staff member, 29 January 2020. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)
high speed rail
A woman rides the high-speed train near Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, 29 January 2020. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

This photo story was put together by Candice Chan, ThinkChina.