Year of the rabbit begins in China

BEIJING (AP) — People across China rang in the Lunar New Year on Sunday with large family gatherings and people visiting temples after the government lifted its strict “zero-COVID” policy, marking the biggest festivities since the pandemic three years ago. year started.

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

With the easing of most of the COVID-19 restrictions that had confined millions to their homes, people could finally make their first trip back to their hometowns to reunite with their families without worrying about the cancer of quarantine , potential termination and suspension of travel. Bigger public celebrations are also back for what is known as Spring Festival in China, with the capital hosting thousands of cultural events – on a bigger scale than a year ago.

“He never experienced what a traditional New Year is like because he was too young three years ago and he has no memory of it,” said Si Jia, who brought her 7-year-old son to the Qianmen area near Tiananmen Square. Beijing brought. to experience the festive vibe and learn about traditional Chinese culture.

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Nearly 53,000 offer prayers at the Lama Temple in Beijing but the crowd appears to be smaller compared to pre-pandemic days. The Tibetan Buddhist site allows up to 60,000 visitors a day, citing security reasons, and requires an advance reservation.

Many locals and tourists swarmed the pedestrian streets in Qianmen, enjoying snacks from the barbecue and New Year’s cake stalls, and some children wore traditional Chinese rabbit hats. Others have blown sugar or marshmallows shaped like bunnies.

In Taoranting Park, there was no sign of the usual bustling new year food stalls despite its walkways decorated with traditional Chinese lanterns. A popular temple fair in Badachu Park, which was suspended for three years, will return this week, but similar events in Ditan Park and Longtan Lake Park have not yet returned.

The mass movement of people can spread the virus in certain areas, said Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at China’s Center for Disease Control. But a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak will be unlikely in the next two or three months because about 80% of the country’s 1.4 billion people have been infected during the recent wave, he wrote on the social media platform Weibo on Saturday.

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The center reported 12,660 COVID-19-related deaths between January 13 and 19, including 680 cases of respiratory failure caused by the virus and 11,980 deaths from other diseases combined with COVID-19. These are on top of 60,000 deaths reported last week since early December. The statement on Saturday said the deaths occurred in hospitals, meaning anyone who died at home was not included in the tally.

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

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

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

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Resident Freddie Ho, who visited the temple on Saturday night, was happy that he could personally participate in the event.

“I hope to place the first incense stick and pray that the New Year will bring world peace, that Hong Kong’s economy will flourish, and that the pandemic will go away from us and we can all live a normal life,” Ho said. “I believe that’s what everyone wishes for.”

Meanwhile, crowds praying for good luck at the historic Longshan Temple in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, were smaller than a year ago even as the pandemic eased. That’s partly because many had ventured to other parts of Taiwan or overseas on long-awaited trips.

As communities across Asia welcomed the Year of the Rabbit, the Vietnamese celebrated the Year of the Cat instead. There is no official answer to explain the difference. But one theory says that cats are popular because they often help Vietnamese rice farmers chase away rats.

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