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COVID-19: Mongolia's traditional Naadam festival goes online due to coronavirus fears

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By Mark Armstrong  with AFP
COVID-19: Mongolia's traditional Naadam festival goes online due to coronavirus fears
Copyright  AFP

In Central Asia, Mongolia's Naadam sporting festival kicked-off at the weekend but without the usual crowds of spectators due to Covid-19 fears.

For the first time in its 800-year history, only a handful of guests - including top politicians - were permitted to attend in person.

At a ranch near the capital Ulaanbaatar, contestants in the traditional games demonstrated what's known as the "three manly skills" of horsemanship, wrestling and archery.

Most Mongolians were only able to watch the games on live broadcasts.

But on the city's near-deserted streets, the atmosphere was far from festive as the country comes to grips with coronavirus.

"We can't watch the horse racing," said one resident. "The roads are blocked and it's only accessible to the rich people. And they are the ones who closed the roads since this morning. I don't know what the Nadaam opening ceremony looked like."

Some residents were resentful that the festival had gone ahead at all.

"The government should have distributed the money to general public. We are struggling here. That money could have gone to people like us," complained one man.

Mongolia, which borders Russia and China, has so far reported only 227 virus cases and no deaths but continues to enforce a strict border lockdown that has prompted protests by citizens stranded overseas.

The country has lifted some coronavirus-related restrictions in recent days, allowing cinemas and nightclubs to reopen with limited hours, although political protests and most sporting events are still banned.