China rings in Lunar New Year with most COVID rules lifted

China rings in Lunar New Year with most COVID rules lifted

China rings in Lunar New Year with most COVID rules lifted

BEIJING (AP) — People across China celebrated the Lunar New Year on Sunday with large family gatherings and throngs visiting temples after the government lifted its strict “zero-COVID” policy, marking the biggest celebration ever. festive since the start of the pandemic three years ago.

Lunar New Year is the most important annual holiday in China. Each year is named after one of the 12 Chinese zodiac signs in a repeating cycle, with this year being the Year of the Rabbit. For the past three years, celebrations have been muted in the shadow of the pandemic.

With most COVID-19 restrictions easing, many people could finally make their first trip back to their hometown to reunite with family without worrying about the hassle of quarantine, potential lockdowns and suspension. trips. Larger public celebrations have also returned for what is known as the Spring Festival in China, with the capital hosting thousands of cultural events – on a larger scale than a year ago.

The massive movement of people may cause the virus to spread in some areas, said Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control. But a full-scale COVID-19 surge will be unlikely in the next two to three months because around 80% of the country’s 1.4 billion people were infected during the recent wave, he wrote. Saturday on the Weibo social media platform.

In Beijing, many worshipers offered morning prayers at the Lama Temple, but the crowd seemed to be smaller compared to pre-pandemic days. The Tibetan Buddhist site allows up to 60,000 visitors a day, citing security concerns, and requires advance reservation.

At Taoranting Park, there was no sign of the usual bustling New Year’s food stalls despite its walkways decorated with traditional Chinese lanterns. A popular temple fair at Badachu Park will be back this week, but similar events at Ditan Park and Longtan Lake Park have yet to return.

In Hong Kong, revelers flocked to the city’s largest Taoist temple, Wong Tai Sin Temple, to burn the first incense sticks of the year. The site’s popular ritual has been suspended for the past two years due to the pandemic.

Traditionally, large crowds gather before 11 p.m. on Lunar New Year’s Eve, with everyone trying to be the first, or among the first, to put their incense sticks in the stands in front of the temple’s main hall. Devotees believe that those who are among the first to place their incense sticks will have the best chance of having their prayers answered.

Local resident Freddie Ho, who visited the temple on Saturday evening, was happy to be able to join the event in person.

“I hope to place the first incense stick and pray that the New Year will bring peace to the world, that Hong Kong’s economy will prosper, and that the pandemic will drive us away and that we can all live normal lives,” Ho said. “I think that’s what everyone wants.”

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Associated Press researcher Henry Hou and video journalist Emily Wang in Beijing and video journalist Alice Fung in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

For more on AP’s Asia-Pacific coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

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