A dancer from Boston's Chinese Folk Art Workshop performs at Westbrook Middle School on Saturday during a Lunar New Year celebration. The annual event went on as planned this year despite other local Chinese-American celebrations being canceled due to fears from the coronavirus outbreak.

WESTBROOK, Maine — Despite concerns about the spreading coronavirus outbreak that canceled similar local and national events, an annual Chinese-themed Lunar New Year celebration went on Saturday as planned. Attendance was down, however, from previous years.

“We decided life had to go on,” said Ah-Kau Ng of the Chinese American Friendship Association of Maine. “Besides, it’s not that bad compared to just the regular flu.”

The Friendship Association and the Confucius Institute at the University of Southern Maine host the yearly event. The Lunar New Year is often called Chinese New Year as it is the most important holiday on the calendar there.

Saturday’s celebration, held at Westbrook Middle School, featured energetic performances by Boston’s Chinese Folk Art Workshop. Lectures on Chinese history, language, acupuncture, Chinese and culture were also offered.

Attendance, normally as many as 1,000 people, was down considerably, said Gary Libby, who was taking tickets at the door. Libby also pointed out that other local Lunar New Year festivities — like those at the Chinese Gospel Church of Portland in Cumberland — were canceled over coronavirus fears.

Nearly 12,000 people have been infected by the new coronavirus that originated in China and spread to other countries. More than 250 have died in China. U.S. cases have been confirmed as close as Massachusetts.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett

Nationally, Flushing, Queens — home to New York City’s largest Chinatown — canceled its New Year celebrations scheduled for this weekend, according to the Associated Press. Cities in Maryland, Arizona and California have followed suit. San Francisco still plans to go along with its celebration on Feb. 8, though officials said they are closely monitoring the outbreak.

In Westbrook, representatives from the Chinese consulate in New York City were in attendance. They called for calm in the face of the spreading virus.

“This is a time for fact, not fear — for science, not rumor,” said Aming Liu, of the consulate. Liu spoke in both English and his native language.

“Everybody have good health and a happy new year,” he added.

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.