The Khan Shatyr shopping mall is closed in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, March 22, 2020. For the first time ever, Kazakhstan has not celebrated the Nowruz festival with any public events due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Nowruz, which literally means a new day, is the most important holiday for Kazakhstanis. Starting March 21, the day of the spring equinox, the festival signifies the beginning of spring. (Photo by Kalizhan Ospanov/Xinhua)
NUR-SULTAN, March 21 (Xinhua) -- For the first time ever, Kazakhstan has not celebrated the Nowruz festival with any public events due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Nowruz, which literally means a new day, is the most important holiday for Kazakhstanis. Starting March 21, the day of the spring equinox, the festival signifies the beginning of spring.
In contrast to the hustle and bustle of festival scenes, the capital city Nur-Sultan is left with empty squares and streets. All celebrations are canceled as the city has been in lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Photographer Kalizhan Ospanov, a 41-year-old Nur-Sultan resident, on Friday drove his wife and three sons to a village which is 300 km away from the capital. Rather than celebrating the Nowruz with his family, Ospanov drove back on the same day before the authorities completely shut down the transit in and out of the capital city.
"I sent back my family to the village, because it is relatively isolated and much safer from the virus threat. Such an impressive Nowruz for all of us! We went through once-in-a-lifetime lockdown and unprecedented pandemic. No one has a mood to celebrate. It's hard for everyone," said Ospanov.
"We spent this year's Nowruz with no yurts, no fireworks, no cultural events, no songs or dances. We have to stay at home. I cooked some traditional Nowruz food. So far everything is good, at least we got plenty of food," said housewife Aizhan Mukanov.
Mukanov said it is a difficult moment for Kazakhstan as many health workers are working on the frontline rescuing life. "I hope that the Nowruz festival, which heralds the coming of spring, will bring the country good luck and more pieces of good news."
Accem Smaguleva, an insurance agent, said she supports the stringent measures taken by the government to curb the COVID-19. "Our biggest and most loved festival got the ax unfortunately, but we understand these measures are necessary to contain the virus. Today we send wishes and support to each other through phone calls and messengers. We are confident that Kazakhstan would triumph over the epidemic."
In his Nowruz greetings, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said this year's Nowruz encounters the pandemic, which is badly hitting the world economy and ravaging the Kazakh economy. Kazakhstan is taking concrete measures to protect the health of citizens and stabilize economy. "With full support and unity of our bravery people, Kazakhstan would surely overcome all difficulties and win the victory," Tokayev pledged.
First President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev said the Nowruz signifies a time of renewal and new hopes. "Nothing can impede the coming of spring... May this traditional holiday fulfill our hopes, give us strength and energy."
Kazakhstan reported 54 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Saturday. The Central Asian country declared a month-long state of emergency from March 15 and has shut down Nur-Sultan and the largest city Almaty. Flights and trains to the two cities, which have a combined population of 2.8 million, will be suspended on March 22.