BEIJING, Jan 22 (AFP) - China reported nearly 13,000 Covid-related deaths in hospitals between January 13 and 19, after a top health official said the vast majority of the population has already been infected by the virus.
China a week earlier said nearly 60,000 people had died with Covid in hospitals as of January 12, but there has been widespread scepticism over official data since Beijing abruptly axed anti-virus controls last month.
China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement on Saturday that 681 hospitalised patients had died of respiratory failure caused by coronavirus infection, and 11,977 had died of other diseases combined with an infection over the period.
The figures do not include those who died from the virus at home.
Airfinity, an independent forecasting firm, has estimated daily Covid deaths in China will peak at around 36,000 over the Lunar New Year holiday.
The firm also estimated that more than 600,000 people have died from the disease since China abandoned the zero-Covid policy in December.
Tens of millions of people have travelled across the country in recent days for long-awaited reunions with families to mark the biggest holiday in the lunar calendar that fell on Sunday, raising fears of fresh outbreaks.
But a top health official said China will not experience a second wave of covid infections in the next two to three months after millions return to villages to mark the Lunar New Year because nearly 80 percent of the population has already been infected by the virus.
"Although a large number of people travelling during the Spring Festival may promote the spread of the epidemic to a certain extent... the current wave of epidemic has already infected about 80 percent of the people in the country," Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said in post on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform on Saturday.
"In the short term, for example, in the next two to three months, the possibility of... a second wave of the epidemic across the country is very small."
China's transport authorities have predicted that more than two billion trips will be made this month into February in one of the world's largest mass movements of people.