Hongkongers have been preparing for their first Lunar New Year since Hong Kong relaxed most of its Covid-19 measures, including a limit on the number of people allowed to gather and quarantine-free entry to the city. A mask mandate, however, remains in place.

A woman looks at Lunar New Year decorations at a stall in Central, Hong Kong, in January 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

This year marked the return of the city’s Lunar New Year fairs after two consecutive years of cancellations, albeit without stalls selling dry goods and food.

The fairs, once a platform for political groups to sell satirical products, have been limited to peddling flowers. Orchids, peach blossom and mandarin and tangerine trees are among the plants that are popular during the festival.

People browse flower stalls at a Lunar New Year fair in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, in January 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

On Tuesday, police officers from the city’s National Security Department arrested six people on suspicion of selling a “seditious” book at a pop-up Lunar New Year fair in Mong Kok.

Years of muted Lunar New Year celebrations

Hong Kong confirmed its first Covid-19 infection on January 23, 2020 – two days before the Lunar New Year – and just weeks after the virus had emerged in the mainland Chinese city of Wuhan. With much mystery surrounding the pathogen and the infection it caused – authorities quickly declared the outbreak an emergency.

Lunar New Year decorations in Hong Kong, in January 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Flights and trains from Wuhan were cancelled and a string of public events, including a new year gala and the marathon, were called off, making celebrations to mark the beginning of the Year of the Rat even more muted than expected.

The Lunar New Year parade and fireworks had already been cancelled in the wake of the 2019 protests and unrest. Neither of those events have returned to the city’s calendar.

People browse a Lunar New Year fair in Hong Kong, in January 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
The flower market in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, in January 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
A woman carries a plant through the flower market in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, in January 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Lunar New Year flowers in Hong Kong, in January 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Stalls selling Lunar New Year clothes and decorations in Central, Hong Kong, in January 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
A woman looks at orchids for sale ahead of the Lunar New Year in Hong Kong, in January 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Flowers for sale in Hong Kong, in January 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
A woman carries a blossom branch at a Lunar New Year fair in Hong Kong, in January 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Orchids lined up along the road near the flower market in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, in January 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

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Mercedes Hutton

Mercedes is a Hong Kong-based British journalist with an interest in environmental and social issues. She has written for the Guardian and the BBC and previously worked at the South China Morning Post.