China Celebrates Lunar New Year With Biggest Gatherings Since Start Of Covid Pandemic

New Delhi: China celebrated the Chinese Lunar New Year on Sunday after the government dropped the “zero-Covid” policy last year. The country celebrated with large family gatherings and crowds visiting temples, making it the biggest celebration since the start of the pandemic three years ago, according to the news agency Associated Press.

Celebrated annually, the Lunar New Year is one of the most important festivals in China. Each year is based on 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac, this year being the Year of the Rabbit. The celebrations were muted in the shadow of the pandemic in the past three years.

This year, people could visit their hometowns and reunite with their families after China relaxed its Covid rules and didn’t have to worry about the hassles of quarantine, potential lockdowns, and suspension of travel.

According to AP, 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 as compared to a year ago.

In Beijing, people offered morning prayers at the Lama Temple, however, compared to the pre-pandemic day, the crowds were much smaller. The Tibetan Buddhist site allows up to 60,000 visitors a day, citing safety reasons, and requires a reservation.

Hordes of tourists and residents reached the pedestrian streets in the Qianmen area near Tiananmen Square, to enjoy snacks and brown sugar in the shape of rabbits.

According to a Beijing resident Si Jia, it felt like life was back to normal. She had brought her 7-year-old son to Qianmen to experience the festive vibe in Beijing and learn about traditional Chinese culture.

“He has never experienced what a traditional new year is like because he was too young three years ago and he had no memory of that,” she told AP. “But this year I can show him around here.”

ALSO READ: After India, China Gives Financing Assurances To Sri Lanka For IMF Bailout Package

Celebrations In Hong Kong

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, people flocked to the city’s largest Taoist temple, Wong Tai Sin Temple, to burn the first incense sticks of the year. Worshippers believe those who are among the first to place their incense sticks will stand the best chance of having their prayers answered.

So, big crowds would gather before 11 pm on Lunar New Year’s Eve so that they can be the first to place their incense sticks into the stands in front of the temple’s main hall.

Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at China’s Center for Disease Control, wrote on the social media platform Weibo on Saturday that a large-scale Covid-19 surge 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.

As per AP, the centre reported 12,600 Covid related deaths between January 13 and 19. The statement on Saturday said those “deaths related to Covid” occurred in hospitals, which means anyone who died at home would not be included in the tally.

Last week, China reported nearly 60,000 deaths in people who had contracted Covid-19 since early December.

Chinese tourist flock to Thailand

Chinese tourists also hit Thai beaches for the first time in three years after China reopened borders and curbed its Covid rules. According to Reuters, as China celebrates Lunar New Year, Asia’s tourist hotspots have been bracing for the return of Chinese tourists, who spent $255 billion a year globally before the pandemic.

Especially countries like Thailand and Japan that depend on China as their largest source of foreign tourists.

China’s reopening raises hopes for the return of Chinese visitors, who accounted for nearly a third of Thailand’s 40 million foreign tourist arrivals in pre-pandemic 2019.

The Thai government is expecting at least five million Chinese tourist arrivals this year, with some 300,000 coming in the first quarter.

Though businesses welcome Chinese tourists they are a bit wary of a huge spike in Covid infections in China after Beijing ended its zero-COVID policy.

“We’re glad that China finally allows their people to travel. At the moment, we’ve received some bookings through March,” Woranuch Maungtong told Reuters. The 44-year-old manager of Tip-Top Destination on the resort island of Phuket provides daily speed boats to nearby islands.