Ching Ming Festival (April 4, 2020) is a traditional Chinese festival where families gather and sweep the graves of their ancestors, as a manifestation of filial piety. Amid the coronavirus crisis, the ritual might be halted or changed this year.
During the festival, it is common to see big family groups heading to cemeteries carrying incense with offerings such as faux cash or paper imitations of daily necessities. However, the social distancing law implemented by the government in late-March has banned families from doing so.
The latest measures to curb the spread of the virus included restricting gatherings of groups of more than four people in public, except for those from the same household. People have to keep a distance of no less than 1.5 meters from each other. This means that grave sweepers cannot memorialise their loved one through the regular way if their family members exceed four or do not live under the same roof.
(Chief Executive Carrie Lam announcing that any gathering of four persons or more will be prohibited. Video taken from news.gov.hk.)
Despite the hard measures taken by the government, different officials have urged citizens to avoid outings or at least simplify the rituals.
Dr. Chui Tak-yi, Under Secretary for the Food and Health Bureau, said in a press conference that people should avoid going to grave sites on Ching Ming Festival and suggested that citizens use the online memorial service run by the government, explaining that massive passenger flows and crowds would aggregate the public health risk. To further de-centralise the crowd, he urged citizens not to dine together at the cemeteries.
(The Memorial allows citizens to memorialise their lost beloved ones online. Screenshot from memorial.gov.hk.)
Chui also mentioned that those who go back to mainland China for grave-sweeping need to undergo a 14-day mandatory home quarantine once they return to Hong Kong.
The Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said on his blog that citizens should wear masks in public areas. He also added that the government will lengthen the opening time for public columbarium and strengthen the crowd-management measures. The Transportation Department will also make special arrangements, such as providing special bus services to the columbarium until May, to facilitate citizens to sweep the tombs on different days around the festival.
Meanwhile, both public and private cemeteries operators have implemented different measures to cut risks at the grave-sweeping sites. The 10 government-owned cemeteries reminded grave-sweepers to don masks and maintain good personal hygiene. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department will also deploy more cleaners to keep the place clean.
The Board of Management of The Chinese Permanent Cemeteries (BMCPC), the biggest managing body for local private cemeteries, has followed the government’s moves in lengthening its opening hours. The organization will also provide hand sanitisers in their four cemeteries, including Cape Collinson Chinese Permanent Cemetery, Junk Bay Chinese Permanent Cemetery, Aberdeen Chinese Permanent Cemetery and Tsuen Wan Chinese Permanent Cemetery.
(BMCPC’s announcement on the special arrangements on Ching Ming Festival. Screenshot from BMCPC’s website.)
When compared to the mentioned places, Yuen Yuen Institute and Pofookhill have adopted stricter measures. Staff members will check the body temperature of all visitors. People who have fever, show symptoms of Covid-19 or do not wear masks will be prohibited from entering. Furthermore, Filial Park, Fung Ying Seen Koon and Sik Sik Yuen are closed until April 11 in a bid to contain the virus.
Below is a chart on the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 last week:
(Featured image by Hong Kong Tourism Board.)