News China rings in Year of the Rabbit, scraps most COVID rules

BEIJING (AP) — People across China celebrated the Lunar New Year with large family gatherings and temple visits Sunday after the government rolled back its strict “zero COVID” policy, the most since the pandemic began three years ago. Big holiday celebration.

The Lunar New Year is the most important annual festival in China. Each year is named after one of the Chinese zodiac signs, and in a repeating cycle, this year is the Year of the Rabbit. For the past three years, the festivities have been muted in the shadow of the pandemic.

People can finally return home for the first time as most COVID-19 restrictions that keep millions of people at home ease Reunite with family without the hassle of quarantine, possible lockdowns and travel suspensions. Larger public celebrations also return for what is known in China as the Spring Festival, Thousands of cultural events took place in the capital – on a larger scale than a year ago.

“He has never experienced what it’s like to celebrate the New Year because he was too young three years ago and has no memory at all,” said Sijia, who brought her 7-year-old son to the Qianmen area near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Feel the festive atmosphere and learn about traditional Chinese culture.

Nearly 53,000 people prayed at Lama Temple in Beijing, but the crowds appeared to be smaller than in pre-pandemic days. For safety reasons, Tibetan Buddhist sites allow up to 60,000 visitors per day, and advance reservations are required.

Crowds of residents and tourists flocked to Qianmen Pedestrian Street to enjoy barbecue and snacks from rice cake stalls, some children wearing traditional Chinese rabbit hats. Others hold blown candies or marshmallows that resemble bunnies.

In Taoranting Park, although the sidewalks are adorned with traditional Chinese lanterns, there are no usual bustling New Year’s goods stalls. The Badachu Park temple fair, which has been suspended for three years, will resume this week, but similar events at Ditan Park and Longtan Lake Park have yet to resume.

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said large-scale population movements could lead to the spread of the virus in certain areas. But he wrote on social media platform Weibo on Saturday that a large COVID-19 surge is unlikely in the next two to three months, as about 1.4 billion people in the country’s 1.4 billion population were affected by the latest wave. 80% have been infected.

The center reported 12,660 deaths related to COVID-19 between Jan. 13 and 19, including 680 deaths from respiratory failure caused by the virus and 11,980 deaths from other illnesses related to COVID-19. There were 60,000 reported deaths last week since early December. Saturday’s statement said the deaths occurred in hospitals, meaning anyone who died at home would not be counted.

China counts only those from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official COVID-19 death toll, a narrow definition that excludes many deaths from COVID-19 in much of the world.

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

Traditionally, a large crowd gathers before 11pm on Lunar New Year’s Eve, everyone trying to be the first or the first to place joss sticks on the incense stand in front of the main hall of the temple. Admirers believe that those who burn incense first are most likely to receive a response.

Resident Freddie Ho, who visited the temple on Saturday night, was delighted to be part of the event in person.

Stanley Ho said: “I hope to put the first stick of incense in the new year, praying for world peace, Hong Kong’s economy is prosperous, the epidemic is far away from us, and everyone can live a normal life.” “I believe this is what everyone hopes of.”

Meanwhile, crowds at the historic Lungshan Temple in Taipei, the Taiwanese capital, were filled with fewer blessings than a year ago, despite the easing of the pandemic. Part of the reason is that many have already ventured to other parts of Taiwan or overseas for long-awaited trips.

While communities across Asia are welcoming the Year of the Rabbit, Vietnamese are celebrating the Year of the Cat. There is no official answer explaining the difference. But one theory is that cats are popular because they often help Vietnamese rice farmers keep rats away.


Leung reported from Hong Kong. Associated Press writers Henry Hou, Olivia Zhang in Beijing, Alice Fung in Hong Kong and Taijing Wu in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.


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