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In COVID-stricken Beijing, funeral homes and crematoria are busy

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By Alessandro Diviggiano, Ryan Woo and Winni Zhou

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Hearses carrying the dead lined the driveway to a designated COVID-19 crematorium in the Chinese capital on Saturday, as workers at the city’s dozens of funeral homes were busier than usual, days after China lifted tough pandemic restrictions.

In recent days in Beijing, the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has affected services from catering to parcel deliveries. Funeral homes and crematoria across the city of 22 million people are also struggling to keep up with demand as more workers and drivers who test positive for the coronavirus fall ill.

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

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

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

Parked between them was an ambulance and a wagon with a sheet-wrapped corpse in the open trunk which was later picked up by workmen in hazmat suits and transferred to a preparatory room to await cremation. Three of the many fireplaces smoked continuously.

A few meters from the crematorium, in a funeral home, the RockedBuzz via Reuters reporter saw on the floor about twenty yellow bags containing corpses. RockedBuzz via Reuters could not immediately determine whether the deaths were due to COVID.

The parking lot security operator and the owner of an urn shop at the funeral home building, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RockedBuzz via Reuters the number of deaths was higher than average in this period. it was higher than in the period before most of the pandemic curbs were lifted on 7 December.

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

“Now we have fewer machines and workers,” a staff member at Miyun Funeral Home told RockedBuzz via Reuters, also speaking on condition of anonymity, adding that there was a growing backlog in demand for cremation services. “We have many workers who have tested positive.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the struggle to meet the increased demand for cremation was also due to the increase in COVID-related deaths.

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

“You can carry the body here yourself, it has been busy recently,” the staffer said.


The Chinese health authority last reported deaths from COVID on December 3rd. The Chinese capital last reported one death on Nov. 23.

Yet respected Chinese news outlet Caixin reported on Friday that two veteran state media reporters 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.

However, on Saturday the National Health Commission reported no change to the 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 1.4 billion population to stay at home if they have mild symptoms, as cities across China brace themselves for the first waves of infections.

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

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

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

Official case data has become an unreliable guide as fewer tests are performed across the country following the easing of zero-COVID policies.

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

The lack of officially reported COVID deaths in the last 10 days has sparked debate on social media about data disclosure, also fueled by the lack of statistics on hospitalizations and the number of seriously ill patients.

“Why can’t these stats be found? What’s going on? Haven’t they counted them or are they just not announcing them?” asked one 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 across the China.

In a sign of incoming staff crunches, Shanghai Disney Resort said on Saturday that entertainment offerings may shrink due to a reduced workforce, although the theme park was still operating normally.

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

“Everyone is too scared,” said a staff member at the ticket 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; Screenplay by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Tom Hogue and Frances Kerry)

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