People across China celebrated the Lunar New Year on Sunday with large family gatherings and crowds visiting temples after the government lifted its strict «zero-Covid» policy, marking the biggest holiday celebration since the pandemic began long ago. three years.

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, this year being the Year of the Rabbit. For the past three years, the celebrations have been muted in the shadow of the pandemic.

With most COVID-19 restrictions easing, many people were finally able to make their first trip back to their hometowns to reunite with their families without worrying about the hassles of quarantine, potential closures, and suspension. travel. Larger public celebrations 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 mass movement of people can cause the virus to spread in certain areas, said Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist with the China Center for Disease Control.

But a large-scale surge in covid-19 is 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 on the platform of Facebook on Saturday. Weibo social networks.

In Beijing, many worshipers offered morning prayers at the Lama Temple, but the crowds appeared 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 advance reservation.

In Taoranting Park, there was no sign of the usual bustling New Year’s food stalls despite their aisles being decorated with traditional Chinese lanterns. A popular temple fair in Badachu Park that has been suspended for three years will return this week, but similar events in Ditan Park and Longtan Lake Park have yet to return.

Women watch a little boy pose for a souvenir photo with a rabbit-shaped flower decoration on the first day of the Lunar New Year holiday in Beijing.Andy Wong/AP

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 popular ritual of the site has been suspended for the last two years due to the pandemic.

Traditionally, large crowds gather before 11:00 p.m. on Lunar New Year’s Eve, 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. Worshipers 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 night, was happy to join the event in person.

«I hope to place the first incense stick and pray that the New Year will bring world peace, Hong Kong’s economy will prosper, and the pandemic will disappear from us and we can all live a normal life,» Ho said. «I think this is what everyone wants.»

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

While communities in Asia welcomed the Year of the Rabbit, the Vietnamese celebrated the Year of the Cat. There is no official answer to explain the difference. But one theory suggests that the cats are popular because they often help Vietnamese rice farmers keep rats away.