China rings in Year of Rabbit with most COVID rules lifted

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BEIJING (AP) — Folks throughout China rang within the Lunar New Yr on Sunday with giant household gatherings and crowds visiting temples after the federal government lifted its strict “zero-COVID” coverage, marking the largest festive celebration because the pandemic started three years in the past.

The Lunar New Yr is an important annual vacation in China. Every year is called after one of many 12 indicators of the Chinese language zodiac in a repeating cycle, with this 12 months being the Yr of the Rabbit. For the previous three years, celebrations have been muted within the shadow of the pandemic.

With the easing of most COVID-19 restrictions that had confined thousands and thousands to their houses, individuals might lastly make their first journey again to their hometowns to reunite with their households with out worrying in regards to the hassles of quarantine, potential lockdowns and suspension of journey. Bigger public celebrations additionally returned for what is called the Spring Competition in China, with the capital internet hosting hundreds of cultural occasions — on a bigger scale than a 12 months in the past.

“He has by no means skilled what a standard new 12 months is like as a result of he was too younger three years in the past and he had no reminiscence of that,” mentioned Si Jia, who introduced her 7-year-old son to the Qianmen space close to Beijing’s Tiananmen Sq. to expertise the festive vibe and find out about conventional Chinese language tradition.

Practically 53,000 supplied prayers at Beijing’s Lama Temple however the crowds seemed to be smaller in comparison with pre-pandemic days. The Tibetan Buddhist web site permits as much as 60,000 guests a day, citing security causes, and requires an advance reservation.

Throngs of residents and vacationers swarmed pedestrian streets in Qianmen, having fun with snacks from barbecue and New Yr rice cake stands, and a few kids wore conventional Chinese language rabbit hats. Others held blown sugar or marshmallows formed like rabbits.

At Taoranting Park, there was no signal of the standard bustling new 12 months meals stalls regardless of its walkways being embellished with conventional Chinese language lanterns. A well-liked temple honest at Badachu Park that was suspended for 3 years will likely be again this week, however related occasions at Ditan Park and Longtan Lake Park have but to return.

The mass motion of individuals could trigger the virus to unfold in sure areas, mentioned Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at China’s Middle for Illness Management. However a large-scale COVID-19 surge will likely be unlikely within the subsequent two or three months as a result of about 80% of the nation’s 1.4 billion individuals have been contaminated through the latest wave, he wrote on the social media platform Weibo on Saturday.

The middle reported 12,660 COVID-19-related deaths between Jan. 13 and 19, together with 680 instances of respiratory failure attributable to the virus and 11,980 fatalities from different illnesses mixed with COVID-19. These are on prime of 60,000 fatalities reported final week since early December. The assertion on Saturday mentioned the deaths occurred in hospitals, which implies anybody who died at house wouldn’t be included within the tally.

China has counted solely deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official COVID-19 loss of life toll, a slim definition that excludes many deaths that might be attributed to COVID-19 in a lot of the world.

In Hong Kong, revelers flocked to town’s largest Taoist temple, Wong Tai Sin, to burn the primary incense sticks of the 12 months. The favored ritual was suspended the final two years because of the pandemic.

Historically, large crowds collect earlier than 11 p.m. on Lunar New Yr’s Eve, with everybody attempting to be the primary, or among the many first, to place their incense sticks into the stands in entrance of the temple’s predominant corridor. Worshippers consider those that are among the many first to put their incense sticks will stand the perfect likelihood of getting their prayers answered.

Resident Freddie Ho, who visited the temple on Saturday night time, was glad that he might be a part of the occasion in particular person.

“I hope to put the primary incense stick and pray that the New Yr brings world peace, that Hong Kong’s economic system will prosper, and that the pandemic will go away from us and we will all dwell a traditional life,” Ho mentioned. “I consider that is what everybody needs.”

In the meantime, the crowds praying for success on the historic Longshan Temple in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, have been smaller than a 12 months in the past even because the pandemic has eased. That’s partly as a result of many had ventured to different elements of Taiwan or abroad on long-awaited journeys.

As communities throughout Asia welcomed the Yr of the Rabbit, the Vietnamese have been celebrating the Yr of the Cat as an alternative. There’s no official reply to elucidate the distinction. However one concept suggests cats are widespread as a result of they usually assist Vietnamese rice farmers to ward off rats.

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Leung reported from Hong Kong. Related Press journalists 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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Discover extra of AP’s Asia-Pacific protection at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

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