Beijing: Grappling with an unprecedented increase in deaths due to Covid-19 across provinces, the Chinese authorities are not putting out actual figures of the number of people succumbing due to the viral infection, according to social media posts. Global speculation indicates that Chinese health officials are masking the full impact of their abrupt withdrawal of strict curbs and their relaxation of the Zero-Covid policy.
There is a flood of social media posts on China’s Twitter-style Weibo platform talking about longer-than-normal queues at crematoriums and funeral homes, that are buckling under a growing number of bodies, ostensibly all Covid-19 deaths. The maximum number of such online posts have come from people from Hebei in the north and Guangdong in the south.
Emerging media reports also indicate that the wave of fatalities which, until now, was limited to the capital Beijing is quietly rippling through less prominent parts of China. Amidst an overwhelming number of such reports, Beijing, however, has officially only reported seven Covid-19 deaths, despite an outbreak of infections.
In Chongqing, which hasn’t officially declared a Covid-19 death since late-November, a woman said her grandfather died over the weekend and she faced a long wait to obtain a valid death certificate. How does China have so few number of fatalities – less than 20 since the easing of Covid-19 controls in late-November, when the virus is spreading rapidly throughout the mainland is what experts are asking on Chinese social media. It also has not escaped the notice of the rest of the world that the few deaths that China is reporting all seem to come from Beijing and nowhere else.
A man working at a crematorium in Hebei wrote in a Weibo post, which has since been deleted, that his facility is performing as many as 22 cremations a day from about four-to-five before December. Screenshots of the original post, which can’t be verified independently, continue to circulate across Chinese social media.
A post regarding the rising number of obituaries published by a university to commemorate staff who have recently died has also been widely shared on Chinese social media platforms. A Weibo user in Guangdong said the crematorium he went to had staff working overtime to deal with a spate of deaths among the elderly, while a man in Henan said a funeral parlour he attended was so overwhelmed that bodies were being put out in corridors.
The real number of deaths may also have been masked by a change in how to define a Covid-19 fatality. Caixin reported that China had narrowed the guidelines, issuing new guidance this month that notes that some patients who were Covid-positive may have died from underlying illness, and medical facilities have 24 hours to ascertain a person’s cause of death. Earlier, anyone who died while Covid-positive was considered a Covid-19 death.
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