Hong Kong’s iconic Tai Hang fire dragon dance performance, featuring a 67-metre long dragon adorned with burning incense, has been cancelled for a third consecutive year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tai Hang fire dragon dance
Tai Hang’s fire dragon dance. File photo: GovHK.

Organisers of the three-night annual event said on Commercial Radio on Tuesday that the government refused to grant them an exemption to hold the performance amid rising Covid-19 infections in the city. The century-old custom traditionally involves around 300 current or former residents of Tai Hang, a neighbourhood near Hong Kong’s commercial district of Causeway Bay.

It marked the third time that the event was called off owing to the pandemic. Chan Tak-fai, the commander of the fire dragon dance team, said the event was originally scheduled from September 9 to 11 over the Mid-Autumn Festival. Organisers had proposed dividing Tai Hang into seven zones, with Wun Sha Street as the centre, and capping the total number of participants and spectators at 3,000.

All participants would have had to scan the Covid-19 contact-tracing LeaveHomeSafe app, Chan said, and they would need to have received at least three doses of Covid-19 vaccines to take part in or watch the tradition, which villagers believed helped dispel a plague that hit Tai Hang in the 19th century.

Tai Hang fire dragon dance
Tai Hang’s fire dragon dance. File photo: GovHK.

Organisers also intended to station personnel around the neighbourhood to manage the flow of people and remind people not to remain on Wun Sha Street, he said.

However, the government rejected their application to hold the event, Chan said, without providing recommendations on how organisers could step up anti-epidemic measures. The fire dragon dance chief went on to say that the event could attract a lot of people and lead to congregations, adding that he “understood” the government’s refusal.

“A lot of people called us and asked how come the fire dragon dance – supposedly for warding off an epidemic and killing the germs – did not get approved. We don’t know either, it is out of our control,” Chan said on the radio programme.

On Monday, Hong Kong logged 8,488 new Covid-19 cases and added four new related deaths. The city saw its highest number of daily infections in five months last Sunday, when health authorities reported 9,708 cases.

Tai Hang fire dragon dance
Tai Hang’s fire dragon dance. File photo: GovHK.

Last Saturday, the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau told local media that the authorities decided not to grant an exemption to the fire dragon spectacle, as the event involved group gatherings.

Asked by one of the radio hosts if he was disappointed in the government’s decision, the Tai Hang fire dragon dance commander answered “yes.” He said his team had ordered materials for making the dragon as early as March to make sure the dragon – separated into 32 sections and supported by a hemp rope spine wrapped in pearl straw – would be completed on time if the authorities were to give the green light to the event.

The team had already finished making the dragon’s body, while the 48-kilogram head had not been completed.

Tai Hang fire dragon dance
Tai Hang’s fire dragon dance. File photo: GovHK.

The organiser of another fire dragon dance performance, which traditionally took place in Pok Fu Lam Village on the evening of the Mid-Autumn Festival, said on the same radio programme that they were yet to receive a formal reply from the government as to whether the event can go ahead.

“We submitted a formal application, shouldn’t the government give us a formal reply?” asked organiser Alun Siu, who said his team began preparation work for the dance three months ago.

Siu said the organisers would discuss whether to come up with a contingency plan on Tuesday night, adding it would be difficult to seal off the village, which involved public areas, to host the parade.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.