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Although Year of the Tiger celebrations are not as loud, they do bring hope

BEIJING (AP), -- Monday's Lunar New Year festivities were muted in Asia amid worries about the coronavirus, virulent Omicron variant and rising vaccination rates. However, there was hope that the Year of the Tiger would bring normalcy back to life.

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Although Year of the Tiger celebrations are not as loud, they do bring hope

Lunar New Year, China's most important annual holiday, falls on Tuesday February 1. In a repeating cycle, each year is named after one sign of the Chinese Zodiac. The Year of the Tiger is the next in a series.

This year will mark the third consecutive new year that has been celebrated under the shadow of the pandemic. Two days before 2020's holiday, China had already taken Wuhan, a city of 11,000,000 people, into custody.

According to Our World in Data data, around 85% of Chinese are now fully immunized. In addition, more Chinese have traveled domestically this year despite warnings from the government. People prepare for the new year by purchasing red lanterns, decorations and food.

Huang Ping, a 63-year old retiree, lamented as he shop at Beijing's flower market. He said that the new year's atmosphere had "flood," with temples closing and seasonal fairs being closed to keep out large crowds. He expressed his hope for better times.

He said, "I want the epidemic to end as soon as possible" and that he hoped the economy would recover.

Han Guiha, a retired man, stated that he planned to make the most of the situation.

The 62-year old said, "I'll be at home enjoying good wine and food." "I will keep my home clean and beautiful. The virus is rapidly spreading, so we must be cautious.

In the first ten days of the holiday rush that began Jan. 17, some 260 million Chinese traveled to China. This is a decrease from the pandemic, but an increase of 46% over last years. The government predicts that there will be 1.2 billion holiday-season trips, an increase of 36% over last year.

The celebrations will coincide with the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics which opens near the end the weeklong holiday. To prevent coronavirus outbreaks, the Chinese capital has tightened its controls ahead of the sporting event.

The Games will be held in sealed "bubbles" and organizers have stated that tickets will not be sold to the public. Only selected spectators will be permitted.

Wang Zhuo, a Beijing retail manager, said, "I'll watch them with my child, but on TV."

People in Hong Kong, where there was a spike in cases in January saw surgical masks worn as they shopred for holiday gifts with tiger and red themes. Due to the outbreaks, schools were closed in Hong Kong and restaurants had to close at 6 p.m. Many people had to eat at home for New Year's Eve family meals.

Many people are hopeful that the Year of the Tiger will bring relief from the pandemic. Chen Lianshan, a Beijing University expert on Chinese folklore, stated that many believe the traditional powers of the Tiger will be used to help.

He said that the tiger was a protection against evil spirits, it can defeat ghosts and demons of all types, and that the Chinese believe the plague is one type of an evil spirit.

There were also signs in Asia that celebrations might be less subdued than last year. Despite the ongoing pandemic restrictions in Asia, many people have been vaccinated with at minimum two shots in many countries.

People flocked to Hanoi's old quarter to buy decorations and flowers in preparation for Tet, a Vietnamese festival.

Vietnam's daily infection rate is still at 15,000, but the country has reopened for business due to its low death and hospitalization rates.

According to Our World in Data, more than 70% of Vietnamese have been fully vaccinated. 80% of them have received at least one shot.

To minimize risk this year, Tet fireworks and large events have been cancelled by the country.

Thailand is home to 69% of fully vaccinated people. Bangkok decided not to celebrate Lunar New Year in Chinatown this year, but instead was lighting seasonal lanterns along the main street.

Due to coronavirus restrictions, Singapore's Lunar New Year celebrations can be more restrained. Residents are limited to receiving five visitors per day and, preferably, one daily. These rules could make it difficult to visit relatives during the holiday.

Sebastian Lim, a Singaporean resident, said that "this year it will be quite quiet" because people will spread out their visits over the next two week instead of visiting on the first or second days of the new year.

On Monday, business was good at the Taipei flower market as people bought last-minute flowers. 73% of Taiwanese have been fully vaccinated.

"The pandemic is certainly affecting it a little, but people still love flowers, so they come outside and buy flowers," stated one shopkeeper, Lee.

"But prices are lower due to overproduction and we cannot export certain items -- this is what we have the biggest problem."

Ethnic Chinese shopkeepers in Myanmar face a bigger dilemma, as the new year coincides with the one-year anniversary of the military's seizure of power from the democratically-elected government.

People are being asked to shut down their businesses and close their stores in protest of the anti-military movement. Military leaders warned that anyone participating in the protest could be subject to legal action, including being charged with violating the country’s anti-terrorism law.

Shopkeepers, who had planned on closing for the Lunar New Year, are now left wondering what to do.

Hu, a Yangon noodle vendor, said that normally we close during Chinese new years, but he didn't know what he should do this year. He wouldn't reveal his full name for fear of reprisal. "We want to close but we must be afraid of authorities."

Reporting from Bangkok: ___ Rising This story was contributed by AP journalists Wayne Zhang, Taijing Wu, Hau Dinh, Zen Soo, and Chalida Evavitthayavechnukul, all based in Beijing.

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