World's Chinese welcome Year of the Rabbit

Chinese people around the world are ushering in the New Year according to the traditional lunar calendar as the Year of the Tiger gives way to the Year of the Rabbit.

But in China itself, anxiety and loss persists after the recent spike in COVID-19 infections while officials attempt to paint a brighter picture of the health situation.

In Chinese mythology, the rabbit - the fourth of the 12 signs of the zodiac - stands for harmony and longevity.

In China, the New Year started at midnight on Saturday.

This is the first New Year celebration since the communist leadership in Beijing lifted the country's strict coronavirus measures, allowing millions of families to reunite in person this weekend for the first time in three years.

Most Chinese celebrate the start of the New Year over lavish dinners while watching the annual New Year's Gala on state television.

Authorities expect nearly two billion passenger trips during the total 40-day travel season, which is still about 70 per cent of the pre-pandemic travel volume.

But despite the festive mood in the country, the New Year celebration is again overshadowed by the pandemic.

While the coronavirus situation in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai has already largely returned to normal after December's swell in infections, the test of endurance in the provinces is yet to come.

Local health care in these areas is only very rudimentary and modern hospitals are often several hours away by car.

Rural areas are also home to mainly older population groups who have so far received inadequate vaccination protection: according to state media, 25 per cent of people over 60 are unvaccinated.