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    Tribute to Medical Staff Steals the Show at Spring Festival Gala

    Performances for the world’s most-watched television event are usually planned months in advance, but the most memorable one this year was a last-minute addition in light of the ongoing public health crisis.

    A recitation paying tribute to medical staff battling a deadly novel coronavirus outbreak became the most talked-about performance of Friday’s Spring Festival Gala, China’s biggest television event aired annually on Lunar New Year’s Eve by state broadcaster CCTV.

    About an hour into the gala, six well-known Chinese TV hosts took the stage and performed a five-minute recitation called “Love Is the Bridge,” with each giving a moving tribute to the frontline medical workers working to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Unlike the other performances, which are planned and practiced months in advance, the recitation was a last-minute addition on Friday afternoon and was performed without being rehearsed beforehand.

    “We are here celebrating the new year while you are there helping to carry us through these difficulties,” TV host Bai Yansong said, addressing the medical workers. “We love you not only today, but every day of our lives.”

    “I want to give a new year’s greeting to the people of Wuhan. Staying home is your greatest contribution and sacrifice in fighting this epidemic,” said another host. “I want to give new year’s greetings to those who’ve left Wuhan in the past two weeks. Wherever you go, please take care of yourself and reduce the possibility of infecting others. Once you are safe, 1.4 billion of us will be safe.”

    By Saturday morning, the novel coronavirus originating in the central city of Wuhan had killed 41 people and infected at least 1,200 others on the Chinese mainland.

    CCTV’s annual gala, also known as chunwan, gradually rings in the new year over the course of a more than four-hour broadcast. First aired in 1983, it is now the most-watched television program on the planet, drawing a whopping 1.17 billion viewers last year.

    As usual, this year’s gala — officially titled “Fulfilling the Common Prosperity, Celebrating the Happy Year” — featured singing, dancing, opera, magic, comedy, and martial arts. But because of the coronavirus epidemic, two performance venues in the central city of Zhengzhou and the southern Greater Bay Area of Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao contributed prerecorded rather than live performances.

    By Saturday afternoon, a hashtag translating to “the only chunwan performance that wasn’t rehearsed” had been viewed over 400 million times on microblogging platform Weibo. Many users said they hoped the tribute would sway anyone who wasn’t already taking the coronavirus epidemic seriously.

    “My mother finally agreed to wear a face mask after watching this performance,” one Weibo user commented. “I hope Grandpa will cancel the new year’s reunion for 30 people at his place,” posted another.

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: A still frame from this year’s Spring Festival Gala. From @春晚 on Weibo)