It's Now the Year of the Tiger

Chinese celebrants ring in Lunar New Year despite pandemic restrictions
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 1, 2022 8:17 AM CST
It's Now the Year of the Tiger
Lantern decorations are hung on trees near the Olympic Tower on Tuesday in Beijing.   (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

(Newser) – Chinese people rang in the Lunar New Year on Tuesday despite pandemic restrictions, as small crowds gathered at temples to offer traditional prayers for the Year of the Tiger. At the Lama Temple in Beijing, dozens of people bowed in prayer before the ornate west gate of the Tibetan Buddhist site that was shut due to the pandemic. Wang Ying, who works at an accounting firm, tells the AP that praying outside the temple was better than burning incense at home. The Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is the most important annual holiday in China. Each year is named after one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac, with this year being the Year of the Tiger.

This year's holiday has seen fewer people return to their hometowns for traditional family gatherings. China's strict pandemic policies can lead to the swift lockdown of towns and cities, as well as suspension of travel wherever clusters of coronavirus cases are identified. Liu Yuetong stayed in Beijing in case her hometown had a sudden outbreak and her return to work at an ad agency was delayed. "This is the first time [I've celebrated] the Spring Festival in Beijing alone," she said. "I feel a bit lonely. But thanks to technology, I had video calls with my family almost every day."

In Hong Kong, the city's largest Taoist temple, Wong Tai Sin Temple, was closed because of the pandemic, but people gathered to burn incense sticks and offer prayers at smaller temples that remained open. "I hope that this year is like a tiger, very energetic," said Eric Lee, a visitor to the popular Man Mo Temple. "I hope the economy and everyone's career will be better." Hong Kong had a surge of COVID cases in January, and city officials have urged the public to avoid large gatherings. Authorities have also closed schools and banned restaurant dining after 6pm.

Wang also said she's looking forward to the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing on Friday. China has doubled down on its pandemic restrictions ahead of the Olympics. The National Health Commission on Tuesday reported 27 new local cases in the latest 24-hour period, including two in Beijing and seven in neighboring Hebei province. Participants in the Games are being isolated from the general public to try to prevent any cross-infection. As of the end of Monday, 272 people had tested positive among more than 10,000 who'd arrived for the Games, Beijing organizers said. Of the positive cases, 67 were athletes or team officials. Those who test positive are taken to a designated hotel or hospital. "Everything is under control," a spokesperson for the organizing committee said at a presser. "Without a safe Games, there would be no Games."

(Read more lunar new year stories.)

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