Lunar New Year pulls China out of covid | China

People across China rang in the Lunar New Year with family reunions and throngs visiting temples after the government lifted its strict zero-pandemic policy, marking the biggest holiday celebration since the pandemic began three years ago.

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

With the easing of most Covid-19 restrictions, many people could finally return to their hometowns to reunite with their families without worrying about quarantine issues, potential closures and travel suspensions. Larger public celebrations also returned for what is known as China’s Spring Festival, with the capital hosting thousands of cultural events – on a larger scale than a year ago.

The mass movement of people can cause the virus to spread in certain areas, said Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control. But a large increase in Covid-19 would not be likely in the next two or three months because about 80 percent of the country’s 1.4 billion people were infected during the recent wave, he wrote on social media.

In Beijing, many worshipers offered morning prayers at the Lama Temple, but the crowds appeared to be smaller compared to the days before the pandemic. The Tibetan Buddhist site allows up to 60,000 visitors a day, citing security reasons, and requires advance reservations.

There was no sign of the usual bustling New Year food stalls at Taoranting Park despite its walkways being decorated with traditional Chinese lanterns. The popular temple fair in Badachu Park will return this week, but similar events in Ditan Park and Longtan Lake Park are yet to return.

In Hong Kong, people flocked to the city’s largest Taoist temple, Wong Tai Sin, to light 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, a large crowd gathers before 11 p.m. on the eve of the Lunar New Year, and everyone tries to be the first, or among the first, to place their incense sticks on the stands in front of the temple’s main hall. Believers believe that those who are among the first to place their incense sticks will have the best chance of having their prayers answered.

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

“I hope to put the first incense stick and pray that the new year will bring world peace, that Hong Kong’s economy will prosper and that the pandemic will disappear from us and we can all live a normal life,” Ho said. “I believe that’s what everyone wants.”

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