Wishing tree to be sealed off in quiet new year bid

Local | Mandy Zheng 13 Jan 2021

A popular wishing tree in Tai Po will be closed to the public during the Lunar New Year as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor called upon the public to avoid gathering with family members and have a quiet festival holiday.

Speaking before her Executive Council meeting yesterday, Lam said daily Covid-19 infection numbers have been declining slowly despite some fluctuations, though it is worrying that some of the patients are working in public services such as health care and transport.

"I know most citizens feel frustrated and tired and they want to know when they can see the dawn of hope. But now is really not the time to relax," she said.

"We need support from everyone. I'll even say that you should not gather with close family members if not necessary. I believe this New Year should be spent in a rather quiet environment," she added.

As for the premises that are required to remain closed for now, Lam said staff members could be required to undergo regular testing and use the LeaveHomeSafe contact tracing app as prerequisites for reopening.

"The business sector has always told us not to adopt across-the-board measures every time," she said.

Lam also said the Covid-19 vaccinations will not be compulsory, as such a move could trigger a backlash from the public.

"There will definitely be a free vaccination program for everyone, but participation can only be voluntary."

She added that authorities will not offer monetary incentives for vaccinations, although they will keep educating the public about the advantages of getting the jab.

Meanwhile, a Lunar New Year celebration event at the Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree in Tai Po has been canceled for the first time in 11 years, its organizers announced yesterday.

Normally attracting a turnout of some 400,000 every year, the event is hosted on the first day of the year, with visitors writing wishes on joss paper and putting them on wooden racks under two banyan trees.

That is in tribute to a local tradition in the Lam Tsuen village that believes wishes can come true if one successfully throws the joss paper tied to an orange onto the trees.

The event's organizers said the trees will be sealed off between February 12 and 20 to stop people from gaethering, adding it has also canceled the poon choi, or Chinese casserole, festival and float parade.

Separately, restaurant owners expect a loss in custom of up to 60 percent during the Lunar New Year break as fewer people are likely to dine out for family reunions.

Simon Wong Kit-Lung of Tao Miao Institute, a catering sector group, said many eateries will have to depend on selling poon choi takeouts, but such a practice can only benefit a few.

He expected a 60 percent dip of business for restaurants this year, while Chinese restaurant chain MaxChoice puts the figure at 40 to 50 percent if social distancing rules remain in place.

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