In Beijing, funeral homes and crematoriums are busy as COVID spreads

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec 17 (Reuters) – Hearses carrying the dead lined the driveway of a designated COVID-19 crematorium in the Chinese capital on Saturday, while workers from a dozen funeral homes across the city they were busier than usual, days after China rolled back strict pandemic restrictions. .

In recent days in Beijing, the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has affected services from catering to package delivery. Funeral homes and crematoriums across the city of 22 million are also struggling to keep up with demand as more workers and drivers who test positive for coronavirus call in sick.

China has yet to officially report any COVID deaths since Dec. 7, when the country abruptly ended many key tenets of its zero-COVID policy that had been championed by President Xi Jinping, following unprecedented public protests against the protocol.

A US-based research institute said this week that the country could see an explosion of cases and that more than a million people in China could die of COVID by 2023. A sharp increase in deaths would test the efforts by the authorities to steer China away from endless testing. lockdowns and heavy travel restrictions, and realigning with a world that has largely reopened to living with the disease.

On Saturday afternoon, a Reuters reporter saw around 30 hearses stopped in the driveway leading to Dongjiao Funeral Home, a COVID-designated crematorium in Beijing.

Parked between them were an ambulance and a wagon with a sheet-wrapped corpse in the open trunk that was then picked up by workers in hazmat suits and moved to a staging room to await cremation. Three of the numerous chimneys smoked continuously.

A few meters from the crematorium, in a funeral home, the Reuters journalist saw about 20 yellow body bags containing corpses on the ground. Reuters could not immediately establish whether the deaths were due to COVID.

The parking lot security operator and the owner of an urn shop in the funeral home building, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the number of deaths was above average in this period and higher compared to the period before the lifting of most pandemic restrictions. December 7th.

Sick workers have also affected staffing at about a dozen funeral homes in Beijing.

“We have fewer cars and workers now,” a staff member at Miyun Funeral Home, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters by telephone, adding that there was a growing backlog of demand for cremation services. “We have a lot of workers who have tested positive.”

It was not immediately clear if the scramble to meet the increased demand for cremation was also due to an increase in COVID-related deaths.

At Huairou Funeral Home, a body was kept for three days before it could be cremated, a staff member said.

“You can transport the body here yourself, it’s been busy recently,” the staff member said.


China’s health authority last reported COVID deaths on December 3. The Chinese capital last reported a death on November 23.

However, respected Chinese news outlet Caixin reported on Friday that two veteran state media journalists had died after contracting COVID-19 in Beijing, among the first known deaths since China rolled back most of its zero-COVID policies. .

On Saturday, Caixin reported that a 23-year-old medical student in Sichuan died of COVID on December 14.

Still, the National Health Commission reported on Saturday that there was no change to its official COVID death toll of 5,235 since the pandemic emerged in Wuhan province in late 2019.

Since lifting restrictions earlier this month, China has told its population of 1.4 billion to stay home if they have mild symptoms, as China’s cities brace for their first waves of infections.

If the strict containment policies had been lifted earlier, say on January 3 this year, 250,000 people would have died in China, leading Chinese epidemiologist Wu Zunyou said on Saturday.

As of December 5, the proportion of severely or critically ill COVID patients had dropped to 0.18% of reported cases, Wu said, from 3.32% last year and 16.47% in 2020.

This shows that China’s death rate from the disease is gradually falling, he said, without elaborating.

Official numbers on cases have become an unreliable guide as fewer tests are being done across the country following the easing of zero-COVID policies.

China stopped publishing the number of asymptomatic cases from Wednesday, citing a lack of PCR tests among people without symptoms.

The lack of officially reported COVID deaths over the past 10 days has sparked a debate on social media over data disclosure, fueled also by the paucity of statistics on hospitalizations and the number of seriously ill.

“Why can’t these statistics be found? What’s going on? Didn’t they count them or just not announcing them?” asked a person on Chinese social media.

In Shanghai, more than 1,000 km (620 miles) south of Beijing, local education authorities on Saturday told most schools to hold classes online starting Monday, to deal with worsening COVID infections. in China.

In a sign of looming staffing problems, Shanghai Disney Resort said on Saturday that entertainment offerings may be reduced due to a smaller workforce, though the theme park is still operating as normal.

At one of Shanghai’s Christmas markets in the city center, there were few visitors on Saturday.

“Everyone is too scared,” said a staff member at the box office.

Reporting by Ryan Woo and Alessandro Diviggiano in Beijing and Winni Zhou in Shanghai Additional reporting by Jindong Zhang, Brenda Goh and Eduardo Baptista Writing by Sumeet Chatterjee Editing by Tom Hogue and Frances Kerry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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