China urges no weddings, short funerals to contain virus

A couple pose for pre-wedding pictures at the north gate of the Palace Museum in Beijing

China has asked couples to delay their nuptials from a popular wedding date and families to scale down funeral services to help slow the spread of the country's viral outbreak.

The appeal came as the death toll from the new coronavirus soared to 259 and the total number of cases neared 12,000 nationwide.

"Where marriage registrations have been announced or promised for February 2 this year, you are advised to cancel it and explain the situation to others," a civil affairs ministry statement said.

February 2 this year is being considered a lucky date for wedding ceremonies because the sequence of numbers "02022020" reads the same backwards as forwards.

Beijing, Shanghai and other cities had earlier decided to offer wedding registry services on the date, despite it falling on a Sunday when offices are usually closed.

The ministry said it would temporarily halt marriage counselling services and asked the public not to hold wedding banquets.

It also said funerals should be held in a "simple and expeditious manner to avoid gatherings of people" and the bodies of any victims of the coronavirus should be cremated as soon as possible.

Staff handling funerals should wear protective gear and carry out temperature checks to avoid risking infection, the statement added.

China has introduced drastic travel restrictions and pushed back the end of the Lunar New Year break -- when hundreds of millions of people travel across the country to visit family -- in a bid to contain the virus.

Schools and universities nationwide have been told not to resume classes, officials have urged factories to delay their return to work and the public has been asked to avoid large crowds.

More than 50 million people in Hubei province, where the virus was first detected, are effectively locked down after authorities severed transport links.

Officials in Hubei announced Saturday that they would suspend all marriage registrations from Monday until further notice.

Several countries including the US and Australia have barred entry to foreigners who have travelled to China in the past two weeks.

A couple pose for pre-wedding pictures at the north gate of the Palace Museum in Beijing