- Overwhelmed funeral homes in China are grappling with a deluge of deaths as the country emerges from its zero-COVID stance.
- One facility is so busy it only gives families 5-10 minutes to grieve, according to Bloomberg.
- The demand for funeral services is so high that people are lining up outside funeral homes to sell their places.
As reopening China grapples with a tsunami of new COVID infections, its funeral homes have become the latest beleaguered industry.
So many people are dying in Shanghai that a funeral home – which is processing five times more corpses than usual per day – is giving families only five to 10 minutes to mourn the dead in an unelaborate way, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.
Longhua Funeral Home laid out the bodies on stretchers, allowing mourners to briefly pay their respects before being taken away, the outlet wrote.
“The whole system is paralyzed right now,” a Longhua employee told Bloomberg.
People on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, posted videos of long lines outside the funeral home, with one user saying at least 30 people had already started queuing at 2 a.m. December 27. Insider could not independently verify the authenticity of these videos.
Demand for funeral services is so high that people have started queuing outside crematoriums to sell their seats at premium prices.
At Baoxing Funeral Home, another funeral home in Shanghai, local police on December 29 arrested 20 scalpers who were queuing “without the need for funeral services” and death certificates, the public security bureau of Shanghai said. the city on December 30.
Even in Beijing, public services have been under strain for weeks. Health authorities said on Dec. 11 that emergency services were overwhelmed with more than 30,000 calls a day, according to the Beijing Daily.
Chen Zhi, chief physician of the Beijing Emergency Medical Center, pleaded with residents to only call medical hotlines if they were seriously ill. “Currently, resources to respond to emergency calls and dispatch ambulances are very limited,” he said, according to the Beijing Daily.
China’s COVID death toll remains a mystery
The actual number of deaths in China after its rapid reopening remains unknown. The central government only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official COVID death toll, excluding patients with other pre-existing conditions.
So far, official reports from the country’s National Health Commission have only acknowledged six new coronavirus deaths since Dec. 6 – when President Xi Jinping’s administration announced a sudden return to its zero COVID policy. .
The official death count for the entire pandemic – as of 2019 – stood at 5,241 deaths on December 24, 2022, when the count was last updated. On Christmas Day, the commission announced it would no longer provide daily updates of its coronavirus figures amid a deluge of new cases.
Data companies elsewhere in the world believe the death toll in China could reach millions in the space of several months.
British health data firm Airfinity estimated that 9,000 people died of COVID every day in China and predicted a total death toll of 1.7 million from the start of the reopening until April.
Another analytics firm, Auckland-based Wigram Capital Advisors, has warned that one million Chinese will die of COVID over the winter.
Meanwhile, officials from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in internal discussions that 250 million people were infected with COVID in the first 20 days of December. The Financial Times reported, citing two people familiar with the matter. If true, these figures contradict the government’s latest official tally of 348,000 infections.
The expected increase in infections among China’s population relatively vulnerable to COVID puts the rest of the world on its toes. The United States and Japan have imposed coronavirus testing requirements on travelers from China, while Morocco has barred entry to all such travelers outright.
In response, Beijing blasted nations imposing travel restrictions, saying they “lack a scientific basis” and calling them “excessive measures”. Spokesperson Mao Ning told a press conference, “We firmly reject the use of COVID measures for political purposes and will take corresponding measures in response to various situations based on the principle of reciprocity.”
Longhua Funeral Home, Baoxing Funeral Home and China’s National Health Commission did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.