Thursday, February 9, 2023

Crematoriums in Beijing buckle under covid wave

Workers at Beijing crematoriums said Friday they are overwhelmed as China faces a surge in Covid cases that authorities warn could hit its underdeveloped rural hinterland during upcoming public holidays.
Covid-19 is spreading rapidly across China after three years of strict containment measures ended last week, with health authorities now admitting the true scale of the outbreak is “impossible” to track.
China’s top Covid response body on Friday urged local governments to step up monitoring and treatment services for people returning to rural hometowns to visit family for upcoming New Year’s Day and Lunar New Year celebrations.
The latter is the world’s largest annual migration, with three years of pent-up demand due to prolonged zero-Covid domestic travel restrictions waiting to explode.
State media and Chinese health experts have downplayed the severity of Omicron, with expert Zhong Nanshan recently saying that Covid should be called the “coronavirus cold”.
But millions of unvaccinated elderly people remain vulnerable, and there have been widespread shortages of antigen tests and fever medicines in shops.
Two Beijing funeral homes contacted by AFP confirmed they were operating 24 hours a day and offering same-day cremation services to keep up with a recent surge in demand, despite official data registering no new Covid deaths since December 4.
“We’re being worked to the bone! Over 10 of our 60 staff are positive (for Covid) but we have no choice, it’s been so busy lately,” one crematorium staffer told AFP.
“We are cremating 20 bodies a day, mostly old people. A lot of people have been getting sick recently.”
Another Beijing crematorium told AFP that there was a week-long waiting list for a spot.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Hong Kong estimated China could experience about a million Covid deaths this winter without timely intervention such as fourth-dose booster vaccinations and social restrictions.
China has only reported nine official deaths from Covid since mid-November, despite logging more than 10,000 daily infections since then.
There were no Covid deaths reported nationwide between May 28 and November 19.
In the earliest Wuhan outbreak, many deaths of Covid-positive patients went unreported due to strict national criteria for classifying Covid-related deaths, Chinese media reported at the time.

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