BEIJING, Jan 22 (Reuters) – China marked the Lunar New Year on Sunday with its people praying for health after three years of stress and financial hardship under the pandemic, as authorities reported nearly 13,000 new deaths caused by the virus between January 13 and 19.
Queues stretched for about a kilometer (half a mile) outside the iconic Lama Temple in Beijing, which had been closed several times before COVID-19 restrictions ended in early December, with thousands of people waiting their turn to pray for their loved ones.
A Beijing resident said she wished the Year of the Rabbit would bring “health to everyone”.
“I think this wave of the pandemic is gone,” said the 57-year-old, who gave only her last name, Fang. “I didn’t catch the virus, but my husband and all my family members did. I still think it’s important to protect yourself.”
Previously, authorities had reported nearly 13,000 COVID-related deaths in hospitals between Jan. 13 and Jan. 19, adding to nearly 60,000 the previous month. Chinese health experts say the wave of infections across the country has already peaked.
The update of the death toll, from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, comes amid doubts about the transparency of Beijing’s data and remains extremely low by global standards.
Hospitals and funeral homes have been overwhelmed after China scrapped the world’s toughest regime of COVID checks and mass testing on Dec. 7 in a sharp policy reversal, which followed historic curbside protests.
The number of deaths reported by Chinese authorities excludes those who died at home, and some doctors said they were discouraged from putting COVID on death certificates.
On Jan. 14, China reported nearly 60,000 COVID-related deaths in hospitals between Dec. 8 and Jan. 12, a huge increase from the more than 5,000 deaths previously reported over the entire period of the pandemic.
Funeral home spending on items ranging from body bags to cremation ovens has increased in many provinces, documents show, one of many indications of the deadly impact of COVID in China.
Some health experts expect more than a million people to die from the disease in China this year, with UK health data firm Airfinity predicting COVID deaths could reach 36,000 a day this week .
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 to those in affluent coastal areas. .
An estimated 110 million train passenger trips were made from Jan. 7-21, the first 15 days of the 40-day Lunar New Year travel rush, up 28% year-on-year, People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, reported.
A total of 26.23 million journeys were made on Lunar New Year’s Eve via rail, highway, ships and planes, half of pre-pandemic levels but up 50 .8% from a year ago, CCTV reported.
The massive movement of people during the holiday season may spread the pandemic, increasing infections in some areas, but a second wave of COVID is unlikely in the short term, said Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the China Center for Disease Control and disease prevention. on the Weibo social media platform.
The possibility of a big COVID rebound in China in the next two or three months is remote as 80% of people have been infected, Wu said.
After China reopened its borders on Jan. 8, some Chinese have also booked outbound trips. Asia’s tourist hotspots are bracing for the return of Chinese tourists, who spent $255 billion a year globally before the pandemic.
“Because of the pandemic, we hadn’t been out of China for three years,” said Kiki Hu, 28, a tourist and business owner, in Krabi, on Thailand’s southwest coast. “Now that we can leave and come here for the holidays, I feel so happy and moved.”
Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Writing by Marius Zaharia Editing by Shri Navaratnam
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