China rang in the Lunar New Year yesterday with its people praying for health after three years of stress and financial hardship under the pandemic, as officials reported almost 13,000 new deaths caused by the virus between January 13 and 19.
Queues stretched for about 1km outside the iconic Lama temple in Beijing, which had been repeatedly shut before Covid-19 restrictions ended in early December, with thousands of people waiting for their turn to pray for their loved ones.
One Beijing resident said she wished the year of the rabbit will bring ‘health to everyone’.
“I think this wave of the pandemic is gone,” said the 57-year-old, who only gave her last name, Fang. “I didn’t get the virus, but my husband and everyone in my family did. I still think it’s important to protect ourselves.”
Earlier, officials reported almost 13,000 deaths related to Covid in hospitals between January 13 and 19, adding to the nearly 60,000 in the month or so before that. Chinese health experts say the wave of infections across the country has already peaked.
The death toll update, from China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, comes amid doubts over Beijing’s data transparency and remains extremely low by global standards.
Hospitals and funeral homes were overwhelmed after China abandoned the world’s strictest regime of Covid controls and mass testing on December 7 in an abrupt policy U-turn, which followed historic protests against the curbs.
The death count reported by Chinese authorities excludes those who died at home, and some doctors have said they are discouraged from putting Covid on death certificates.
China on January 14 reported nearly 60,000 Covid-related deaths in hospitals between December 8 and January 12, a huge increase from the 5,000-plus deaths reported previously over the entire pandemic period.
As millions of migrant workers return home for Lunar New Year celebrations, health experts are particularly concerned about people living in China’s vast countryside, where medical facilities are poor compared with those in the affluent coastal areas.
About 110 million railway passenger trips are estimated to have been made during January 7-21, the first 15 days of the 40-day Lunar New Year travel rush, up 28 per cent year-on-year, People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper, reported.
A total of 26.23m trips were made on the Lunar New Year eve via railway, highway, ships and airplanes, half the pre-pandemic levels, but up 50.8pc from last year, state-run CCTV reported.
The mass movement of people during the holiday period may spread the pandemic, boosting infections in some areas, but a second Covid wave is unlikely in the near term, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said on the Weibo social media platform.