BEIJING: China rang in the Lunar New Year on Sunday (Jan 22) 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 Jan 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 Jan 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 Center for Disease Control and Prevention, comes amid doubts over Beijing’s data transparency and remains extremely low by global standards.
Hospitals and funeral homes have been overwhelmed since China abandoned the world’s strictest regime of COVID controls and mass testing on Dec 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-19 on death certificates.
China on Jan 14 reported nearly 60,000 COVID-related deaths in hospitals between Dec 8 and Jan 12, a huge increase from the 5,000-plus deaths reported previously over the entire pandemic period.
Spending by funeral homes on items from body bags to cremation ovens has risen in many provinces, documents show, one of several indications of COVID-19’s deadly impact in China.