HONG KONG: Hong Kong's Chinese New Year fairs, usually an opportunity to sell creative merchandise critical of the government alongside festive foods and decorations, are subdued this year amid COVID-19 restrictions and a sweeping national security law.
In January last year, fairs sold a variety of items carrying slogans popularised by mass demonstrations in 2019, from tote bags and T-shirts to coasters and temporary tattoos.
But protests evaporated as the COVID-19 pandemic prevented large gatherings. Then China imposed a sweeping national security law in June, and Hong Kong authorities began arresting activists and opposition politicians.
Early in the afternoon on Thursday (Feb 11), just a few dozen people shopped for flowers in Victoria Park in the city's dense Causeway Bay neighbourhood and across the harbour in Mong Kok, two of the most common areas for mass demonstrations in the past.
Crowd controls were in place and temperature checks were mandatory.
"Next year I hope everything will be better," said Peter Luk, 63, a retiree shopping at Victoria Park. "We should have all sorts of things - political merchandise, things to eat, toys and flowers, everything."
But legal professional Clare Zhou, 26, said she enjoyed the scaled-back experience.
"It’s nice, it’s very peaceful," Zhou said. "It’s the spring festival, nobody wants any conflict and anything political."
Hong Kong plans to ease some of its coronavirus restrictions starting Feb 18, reopening sports and entertainment facilities and extending dining hours to 10pm from the current 6pm.
Its vaccination campaign is expected to start at the end of the month.
The city of 7.5 million people has recorded around 10,700 infections and 188 deaths since January last year.