BEIJING (AP) – Chinese people roll out on Tuesday in the Lunar New Year despite pandemic restrictions as small crowds gather outside closed temples offering traditional prayers for the Year of the Tiger.
At the Lama Temple in Beijing, dozens of people gathered to bow in prayer for the ornate western gate of the Tibetan Buddhist site, which was often filled with worshipers before the pandemic.
Wang Ying, who works at an accounting firm, said praying outside the temple was better than burning incense at home.
“I think sincerity is more important than burning incense sticks,” she said, after completing her devotions.
Wang also said she is looking forward to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics on Friday. To mark the holiday, Beijing residents also took pictures outside displays for the Games on the city’s central Tiananmen Square.
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 homes for traditional family gatherings. China’s strict pandemic policy could lead to the rapid closure of cities and towns, as well as the cessation 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 advertising agency was delayed.
“This is the first time I’m just having the Spring Festival in Beijing,” she said after her prayers outside the Lama Temple. “I feel a little lonely. But because of 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 due to the pandemic, but people gathered to burn incense sticks and offer prayers at smaller temples that remained open.
“I hope this year is like a tiger, very energetic,” said Eric Lee, a visitor to the popular Man Mo Temple. “I hope everyone’s economy and career will be better in Tiger Year.”
Hong Kong had an increase in coronavirus cases in January and city officials have called on the public to avoid large gatherings. Authorities also closed schools and banned eating in restaurants after 6 p.m.
The number of worshipers at the historic Longshan Temple in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, was significantly lower when the pandemic entered its third year. Settlers from southern China built the temple in the eighteenth century to honor Buddha. It also has altars dedicated to Taoist religions.
Associated Press video producer Liu Zheng in Beijing and video journalists Alice Fung in Hong Kong and Taijing Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.