Persian New Year celebration cancelled over COVID-19 fears

The local Iranian community has decided to cancel their Persian New Year festivities as COVID-19 ravages Iran.

More than 200 people known to have died from respiratory illness in Iran

A fire-jumper celebrates Nowruz, the Persian New Year, in Ottawa. (CBC)

There will be no fire-jumping to welcome spring to Ottawa this year.

The capital's Iranian community has decided to cancel their Persian New Year festivities as COVID-19 ravages Iran.

State television in Iran said the coronavirus had killed up to 237 people and there are more than 7,000 confirmed cases of the respiratory illness that's new to humans and has no vaccine, with symptoms similar to a cold or flu in most cases.

Mehdi Mahdavi, president of the Iranian Arts & Cultural Society of Ottawa, said the community isn't in the mood to celebrate during the outbreak.

"People are dying over there, so people [here] are not in the mood of festivity and happiness," he said.

The Persian New Year, known as Nowruz, marks the start of spring with fire-jumping, dinner parties and bazaars.

This year's festivities on and around March 19 were in doubt after confirmed cases in Canada were been traced to travellers from Iran. No cases have been reported in Ottawa.

Mahdavi said he and other community leaders have been meeting with Ottawa Public Health to help spread information to community members who aren't strong English speakers.

Businesses taking a hit

Several businesses had been planning events and selling tickets prior to the cancellation, Mahdavi said.

Now those tickets are being refunded, which he estimates will cost local business $5,000 to $10,000.

Events may be rescheduled for a later date if the outbreak slows, Mahdavi said.

Parties to celebrate Persian New Year are on hold, hugs are being replaced with fist bumps at family gatherings. We hear how the community is dealing with coronavirus fears and why public health officials are asking members of this community in particular to self-isolate if they're returning home from Iran. 11:51

In the meantime, community leaders are being vigilant.

"Now we are just considering planning our contingency plans if anything happens, if the coronavirus comes to the city, how the community can help each other and get together and support government's guidelines," Mahdavi said.

With files from Reuters