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In Beijing, funeral parlors and crematoria are busy as COVID spreads

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

In recent days in Beijing, the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has affected catering services and parcel delivery. 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 ended many key tenets of its COVID-zero policy championed by President Xi Jinping following unprecedented public outcry against the protocol.

A US-based think tank this week said the country could see an explosion in cases and more than a million people in China could die from COVID in 2023. A sharp rise in deaths would test authorities’ efforts to fend off China from the endless testing, lockdowns and tight travel restrictions and realigning with a world that has largely reopened to living with the disease.

On Saturday afternoon, a Reuters journalist saw about 30 hearses parked at the entrance 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 later picked up by workers in hazmat suits and taken to a preparatory room to await cremation. Three of the numerous undulating chimneys smoked continuously.

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

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

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

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

It was not immediately clear whether the struggle to meet rising demand for cremation was also due to a rise in COVID-related deaths.

At the Huairou funeral home, a body was held for three days before being cremated, an official said.

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

FOLLOW-UP OF DEATHS AND CASES

China’s health authority last reported deaths from COVID on Dec. The Chinese capital last reported a fatality on Nov. 23.

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

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

Still, the National Health Commission on Saturday reported no change in 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 experience mild symptoms as cities across China brace for the first waves of infections.

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

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

This shows that the death rate from the disease in China 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 COVID-zero policies.

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

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

“Why can’t these stats be found? What’s going on? Have they not counted them or are they simply not reporting them?” one person on Chinese social media asked.

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

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

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

“Everyone is very scared,” said a ticket worker.

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

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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