China rings in Lunar New Year with few COVID restrictions in biggest celebration since start of pandemic

With most COVID restrictions lifted, China rang in the Lunar New Year on Sunday, with family gatherings and temple visits to mark the biggest celebration since the start of the pandemic, the Associated Press reported. 

The Lunar New Year is the most important annual holiday in China. Each year represents 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 due to the pandemic, but the government scrapped its controversial zero-COVID policy in December.

Nearly 53,000 people offered prayers at Beijing’s Lama Temple, but the crowds appeared to be smaller than in prepandemic years, the AP reported. The Tibetan Buddhist site allows up to 60,000 visitors a day and requires an advance reservation.

The mass movement of people may cause the virus to spread in certain areas, said Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at China’s Center for Disease Control. But 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 already been infected during the recent wave, he wrote on the social media platform Weibo on Saturday.

What’s seen as the world’s largest annual human migration is under way again in China for the Lunar New Year, after the country lifted pandemic restrictions. The Wall Street Journal’s Yoko Kubota reports on how it’s expected to boost the economy — and the risk of new COVID-19 outbreaks. Photo: Cfoto/Zuma Press

The agency reported 12,660 COVID-related deaths between Jan. 13 and 19, including 680 cases of respiratory failure caused by the virus and 11,980 fatalities from other ailments combined with COVID-19. Those are on top of the 60,000 fatalities since early December that were reported last week. The statement on Saturday said those deaths occurred in hospitals, meaning that anyone who died at home would not be included in the tally.

In the U.S., the seven-day average of new U.S. COVID cases stood at 47,290 on Sunday, according to a New York Times tracker. That’s down 28% from two weeks ago.

The daily average for hospitalizations was down 22% to 37,474. The average for deaths was 489, down 4% from two weeks ago. 

Cases are now rising in just four states: Kentucky, Alaska, Tennessee and Illinois, along with Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Cases of flu and RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, are also easing off, according to the Washington Post. That has eroded fears about a “tripledemic” of flu, RSV and COVID stressing healthcare systems.

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Spotify
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has joined Google parent Alphabet
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Intel
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Microsoft
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Coinbase
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Cisco
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Amazon
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Salesforce
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Beyond Meat
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Meta
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and Twitter, among others, in announcing major layoffs in recent months. The streaming music service confirmed plans to lay off about 600 workers, as MarketWatch’s James Rogers reported. More than 55,000 global technology-sector employees have been laid off in the first few weeks of 2023 alone, according to data compiled by the website Layoffs.fyi. Many companies have acknowledged overhiring during the height of the pandemic, when demand for their products was surging.

After a period of aggressive hiring to meet heightened demand for online services during the pandemic, tech companies are now laying off many of those new employees. And tech bosses are saying “mea culpa” for the miscalculation. Wall Street Journal reporter Dana Mattioli joins host Zoe Thomas to talk through the shift and what it all means for the tech sector.

• The Navajo Nation has rescinded a mask mandate that’s been in effect since the early days of the pandemic, fulfilling a pledge that new tribal President Buu Nygren made while campaigning for the office, the AP reported. The mandate was one of the longest-standing anywhere in the U.S. and applied broadly to businesses, government offices and tourist destinations on the vast reservation, which extends into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. The tribe at one point had one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the country and among the strictest measures to help prevent the spread of the virus.

• The World Health Organization is launching its 2023 health emergency appeal today, aiming to raise $2.54 billion to help a record number of people facing complex intersecting health emergencies. These include disruptions caused by COVID, as well as climate-related disasters such as flooding in Pakistan and food insecurity in the Horn of Africa, and conflicts such as the war in Ukraine and conflicts in Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria and northern Ethiopia.

Here’s what the numbers say:

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 668.9 million on Monday, while the death toll rose above 6.73 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 102 million cases and 1,104,118 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 229.5 million people living in the U.S., equal to 69.1% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots.

So far, just 50.7 million Americans, equal to 15.3% of the overall population, have had the updated COVID booster that targets both the original virus and the omicron variants.

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