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China rings in Lunar New Year with most COVID rules lifted | Arts and Culture News

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People across China have celebrated the start of the Lunar New Year with large family gatherings and visits to temples after the government lifted its strict “zero-COVID” policy.

Sunday’s celebrations marked the biggest celebration since the coronavirus pandemic started three years ago.

The Lunar New Year is the most important annual event 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, celebrations were muted in the shadow of the pandemic.

With the easing of most COVID-19 restrictions, many people could finally make their first trip back to their hometowns to reunite with their families without worrying about quarantine, potential lockdowns and suspension of travel.

In Beijing, many offered morning prayers at the Lama Temple but the crowds appeared to be smaller compared with pre-pandemic days.

At Taoranting Park, there was no sign of the usual bustling New Year food stalls despite its walkways being decorated with traditional Chinese lanterns.

In Hong Kong, revellers flocked to the city’s largest Taoist temple, Wong Tai Sin Temple, to burn the first incense sticks of the year.

The crowds praying for good fortune at the historic Longshan Temple in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, were smaller than a year ago even as the pandemic eased.

As communities across Asia welcomed the Year of the Rabbit, the Vietnamese were celebrating the Year of the Cat instead.

There’s no official answer to explain the difference. But one theory suggests cats are popular because they often help Vietnamese rice farmers to chase away rats.

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