HONG KONG, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Hong Kong's Lunar New Year fairs, usually an opportunity to sell creative merchandise critical of the government alongside festive foods and decorations, are subdued this year amid coronavirus restrictions and a sweeping national security law.
Last year in January, fairs sold a variety of items carrying pro-democracy slogans popularised by mass demonstrations in 2019, from tote bags and T-shirts to coasters and temporary tattoos.
But protests evaporated as the coronavirus 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 afternoon on Thursday, 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, re-opening sports and entertainment facilities and extending dining hours to 10 p.m. from the current 6 p.m.
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. (Reporting by Aleksander Solum; Writing by Marius Zaharia. Editing by Gerry Doyle)
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