CHINA has admitted 60,000 people have died from Covid in just one month as the virus sweeps across the country.
The startling death toll is the first official figure to be released since the country dramatically lifted nearly all of its draconian restrictions last month.
And it marks a huge 1,000 per cent increase from China's last official Covid death toll of 5,272 on January 8.
The announcement comes after the Chinese government was accused of covering up the true scale of the pandemic.
Satellite images showed crematoriums totally overwhelmed, with reports of families queuing overnight for cremation slots and being forced to hold two-minute funerals.
Devastated mourners were even forced to burn their own dead loved ones as footage showed morgues packed with body bags and warehouses filled with coffins.
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China said 59,938 people died in hospitals between December 8 and January 12 – with an average age of 80.3.
Officials said 5,503 were caused by respiratory function failure from Covid, while 54,435 were from both underlying diseases and Covid.
China said the "deaths related to Covid" occurred in hospitals – meaning even more could have died at home.
Authorities had been reporting five or fewer deaths a day over the past month – figures inconsistent with the long queues seen at funeral homes and body bags at crowded hospitals.
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The country dropped its highly unpopular "zero-Covid" policy in early December – sparking a massive surge in infections.
The strategy was championed by President Xi Jinping and saw some of the world's strictest lockdowns.
But after a wave of furious nationwide protests, China made a dramatic U-turn.
Beijing has now insisted the "emergency peak" of the latest Covid surge appears to have passed.
Jiao Yahui, director of the National Health Commission’s medical affairs department, said: "The number of fever clinic visitors is generally on a downward trend after peaking, both in cities and rural areas."
Jiao said the number of patients in hospitals was also falling.
Last month, China’s National Health Commission said only Covid patients who die from respiratory failure would be counted towards the official death toll.
But according to a study by Peking University, some 900 million people in China have been infected with Covid as of January 11.
The report estimates that 64 per cent of China's population has the virus.
And a top Chinese epidemiologist has warned cases will surge in rural China over the lunar new year.
It comes after the World Health Organisation said China was heavily under-reporting Covid deaths.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing.
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"WHO is concerned about the risk to life in China and has reiterated the importance of vaccination, including booster doses, to protect against hospitalization, severe disease, and death."
At a briefing on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Beijing has been sharing Covid data in "a timely, open and transparent manner in accordance with the law".
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