Chinese pray for health during Lunar New Year as the death toll from COVID rises

BEIJING, Jan 22 (Reuters) – China welcomed the Lunar New Year on Sunday as its people prayed for health after three years of stress and financial hardship during the pandemic, as officials reported almost 13,000 new deaths caused by from the virus between January 13 and 19.

Queues stretched for about one kilometer (half a mile) outside Beijing’s iconic Lama Temple, which was repeatedly closed before the end of COVID-19 restrictions 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 all”.

“I think this wave of the pandemic has gone,” said the 57-year-old woman, who gave only 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.”

Officials earlier reported almost 13,000 COVID-related deaths in hospitals between Jan. 13 and 19, adding to nearly 60,000 in the month or so before. Chinese health experts say the wave of infections across the country has already peaked.

The update on the number of deaths from the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes amid doubts about the transparency of the data in Beijing and remains extremely low by global standards.

Hospitals and funeral homes were overflowing after China abandoned the world’s strictest regime of COVID controls and mass testing on December 7 in a sharp policy reversal that followed historic protests against the restrictions.

The number of deaths reported by Chinese authorities excludes those who died at home, and some doctors have said they are not recommended to put COVID of death certificates.

China is Jan. 14 reported nearly 60,000 COVID-related deaths in hospitals between December 8 and January 12, a huge increase from the more than 5,000 deaths previously reported for the entire pandemic period.

Funeral home costs for items from body bags to cremation ovens have soared in many provinces, documents showone of several signs of the deadly impact of COVID in China.

Some health experts expect more than one million people to die from the disease in China this year, with UK-based health data firm Airfinity predicting that deaths from COVID 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 wealthy coastal areas.

About 110 million rail passenger trips were made in Jan. 7-21, the first 15 days of the 40-day Lunar New Year travel peak, up 28 percent year-on-year, the People’s Daily, an official of the Communist Party newspaper, reports.

A total of 26.23 million trips were made on the eve of the Lunar New Year by rail, highway, ship and plane, half of pre-pandemic levels but up 50.8 percent from last year, state-run CCTV said.

The mass movement of people during the holiday period could spread the pandemic, increasing infections in some areas, but a second wave of COVID is unlikely in the near future, Wu Zunyu, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Saturday. the social media platform Weibo.

The possibility of a major resurgence of COVID in China in the next two or three months is remote, as 80 percent of people are infected, Wu said.

After China reopened its borders on January 8, some Chinese also booked trips abroad. Asia’s tourist hotspots are gearing up for the return of Chinese touristswhich spent $255 billion a year globally before the pandemic.

“Because of the pandemic, we hadn’t been out of China for three years,” tourist and business owner Kiki Hu, 28, said in Crabs on the southwest coast of Thailand. “Now that we can leave and come here for a vacation, I feel so happy and emotional.”

Additional reporting from the Beijing newsroom; Written by Marius Zachariah Editing by Sri Navaratnam

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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