GEORGE TOWN: As the world grapples with the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, some of Penang’s tourist attractions like the Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill are seeing a smaller number of visitors.
Although yesterday was still a public holiday, fewer people went to Kek Lok Si to pray for a good year.
There was no bumper-to-bumper traffic in Jalan Ayer Itam near the temple’s foothill. And the food courts at the foothill were uncharacteristically empty.
A check at 11am yesterday showed that the expectant throng at the temple was not there.
Only a few busloads of European and Indonesian tourists were seen while crowds praying at the shrine halls were noticeably absent.
Teoh Chung Mong, 33, whose family has been selling chicken rice from a hawker stall leading up to the temple for 30 years, was surprised by the lack of visitors.
“Normally, we get five times the number of customers during CNY compared with normal days. But this year, it’s worse than normal days. We had only two customers until 11am, ” he said.
On Sunday, Teoh said a big crowd came and he was told the visitors all came from cruise ships that called on Swettenham Pier.
“But it is so quiet today. Maybe it is because people are afraid of the virus. I don’t know, ” he added.
Coconut water seller Khaw Eng Kian, 60, had prepared extra coconuts and although it was yet another cloudless and hot day, he found no one queuing up to buy his drinks.
“This has been the norm since Saturday. I don’t know if people are staying away because of the outbreak of the virus in China, ” said Khaw.
Quileen Tan, 30, who was having char koay teow at a stall near the Air Itam Market, said she wanted to visit the temple only in the evening due to the heat and also when the lights are turned on.
“I am here with my family of five from Seremban and will be going into town for some shopping and will be back here in the evening, ” she said.
Kek Lok Si Temple trustee Datuk Seri Steven Ooi did not believe that visitors to the temple were staying away because of the virus scare.
He said it was normal for people to visit the temple in the evenings to see the lights.
“It has also been exceptionally hot and people will not want to come out during the day.
“There is usually a high number of locals and foreign tourists who visit the temple during the festive season, ” he added.
While Ooi kept his hopes up, Penang Hill Corporation general manager Datuk Cheok Lay Leng said the coronavirus outbreak had affected the CNY crowd to the hilltop.
He said that so far, the funicular train service registered a 10% drop in people going up to Penang Hill.
“People are heeding the Health Ministry’s advice to avoid crowded places and are staying away.
“Many going up also wear face masks as a precautionary measure, ” he said.
Meanwhile, state health committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin slammed those who started the fake news about two patients warded in Seberang Jaya Hospital after being infected by the coronavirus.
The story goes that the two had caught the virus after visiting Thailand.
Urging people not to spread unverified information that can cause panic, Dr Afif advised the public to observe the highest levels of personal hygiene and avoid frequenting crowded places.
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