The number of Covid-positive dead arriving at Beijing’s funeral parlours and crematoria is rising, according to media reports, despite China not reporting a fatality from the virus for two weeks.
The Chinese capital is in the grip of its worst Covid-19 wave yet, after officials nationwide abruptly abandoned the strict curbs that have kept the virus at bay for much of the past three years.
Staff at a Beijing crematorium said they cremated the bodies of at least 30 Covid-19 victims on Wednesday.
China hasn’t recorded a death from Covid-19 since Dec 4, when two were lodged.
The last official Covid-19 fatality reported for Beijing, which was seeing thousands of cases a day even before China’s swift U-turn on Covid Zero, was recorded on Nov 23: An 87-year-old woman authorities said had chronic heart disease.
It’s becoming increasingly hard to get a handle on the scale of China’s Covid-19 onslaught.
The country last week halted reporting of asymptomatic cases, which typically made up the bulk of the infection tally.
Even before that move, the dismantling of the country’s once ubiquitous PCR testing apparatus and increased used of rapid antigen kits meant official data was virtually meaningless.
Yet deaths are much less likely to go under the radar than cases.
A spokesperson for China’s National Health Commission said on Tuesday that people who are Covid positive at their death are classed as virus fatalities, regardless of whether that’s the immediate cause of their death.
Yet, the reports coming out of Beijing’s funeral parlours and crematoria indicate that may no longer be the case, or that local authorities or hospitals are classing the deaths differently.
The Beijing Dongjiao Funeral Home cremated 150 bodies on Wednesday, 30 or 40 with Covid-19, a worker said. Covid-19 deaths are being prioritised for cremation, the employee said.
China has reported just 5,235 Covid-19 deaths since the pandemic started in late 2019, with the first known cases in the central city of Wuhan.
There have been questions about China’s Covid-19 data since the start of the pandemic.
Reports of long lines and stacks of urns at Wuhan’s funeral homes fuelled speculation the country was obscuring the true number of dead.
The official Covid-19 death toll was revised up by some 1,290 fatalities in April 2020, boosting the tally in one go by 40 percent.
China rejected suggestions at the time that there had been a cover-up.
It said the additions included cases where people died at home without seeing a doctor or being tested for Covid-19.
Hospitals had been overwhelmed treating patients in Wuhan at the start of the outbreak, and the revisions also included late and incomplete reporting from medical workers, China said at the time.