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China rang in the Lunar New Year on Sunday 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 one kilometre (a half-mile) 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.

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