Continued concerns over the coronavirus and more virulent Omicron strain have kept countries and cities from hosting big celebrations, even as increasing vaccination rates raised hopes that the Year of the Tiger might bring life back closer to normal.
China's most important annual holiday, which falls on Tuesday this year, is named after one of the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac in a repeating cycle.
The Year of the Tiger comes after the Year of the Ox.
This will be the third new year in a row celebrated in the shadow of the pandemic.
It was two days before the holiday in 2020 that China locked down Wuhan — a city of 11 million people — after the detection of the coronavirus there.
About 260 million people travelled in China in the first 10 days of the holiday rush that started on January 17 — fewer than before the pandemic but up 46 per cent from last year.
Overall, the government forecasts 1.2 billion trips during the holiday season, up 36 per cent from a year ago.
In Hong Kong, which had a surge in cases in January, people wore surgical masks as they shopped for red and tiger-themed holiday items.
The city has closed schools because of the outbreaks and required restaurants to close at 6pm, forcing many to dine at home for traditional New Year’s Eve family dinners.
Elsewhere in Asia, there were signs that celebrations might not be as subdued as they were last year.
Despite continuing pandemic restrictions, most people are now vaccinated with at least two shots in many of the region’s countries.
In the old quarter of Hanoi, people flocked to the traditional market at the weekend to buy decorations and flowers for the festival, known as Tet in Vietnam.
More than seven in 10 Vietnamese are fully vaccinated while eight in 10 have had at least one shot, according to Our World in Data.
Still, the country has cancelled Tet fireworks and other large events to minimise risks this year.
In Thailand, where 69 per cent of people are fully vaccinated, Bangkok decided this year not to hold traditional Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinatown for the second year in a row, but was going ahead with lighting seasonal lanterns along the district’s main street.
In Singapore, Lunar New Year celebrations are more subdued due to coronavirus restrictions that allow residents to receive only five unique visitors a day, and preferably only one visit daily.
The rules are expected to affect the tradition of visiting relatives during the holiday.
Meanwhile, in China, state broadcaster CCTV released a video of astronauts in China's space station wishing those on earth a happy new year.
Chinese astronauts Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu were seen decorating the Tianhe core module with red couplets, traditional new year paintings and the Chinese character “Fu”, which represents happiness.