YOKOHAMA--Merchants in the popular Chinatown area here marked the Jan. 25 start of the Lunar New Year by handing out face masks for protection against a new coronavirus spreading from China.

The start of the Lunar New Year is one of the busiest times for the Yokohama Chinatown area.

The festival featured the usual firecrackers and lion dance performances. But this year, the free face masks for passers-by and disinfectant sprays were also prominent.

“Everyone will feel safer if people all have face masks,” said Ding Ping, 49, a merchant who sells paintings in the area. “I want everyone to enjoy Chinatown.”

The traditional event to pray for business prosperity was sponsored by the Yokohama Chinatown development cooperative, which called on the 500 or so retail outlets in the area to place disinfectant spray canisters at their businesses as one way to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We have about 1 million visitors during the period of the Lunar New Year, so we want to be especially thorough about public health measures,” said Yoichiro Ishikawa, 47, an executive of the cooperative.