China’s crematoria ‘packed’ amid surge in Covid cases

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Crematoria across China are scrambling to cope with an influx of bodies as the country battles a wave of Covid cases that authorities said are untraceable.

Cases are rising across China, hospitals are struggling and pharmacy shelves are empty after the government suddenly decided to lift years of lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing.

The United States has warned that the outbreak is now worrying the rest of the world, given the potential for further mutations and the size of China’s economy.

From the northeast to the southwest of the country, crematorium workers told AFP they are struggling to keep up with a spike in deaths.

In Chongqing – a city of 30 million where authorities this week urged people with mild Covid symptoms to go to work – a worker told AFP their crematorium ran out of space to store bodies.

“The number of bodies picked up in the last few days is many times higher than before,” said an employee who did not give his name.

“We are very busy, there is no longer cold storage for corpses,” they added.

“We’re not sure (if it’s related to Covid), you’ll have to ask the relevant executives.”

In the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, an employee at a crematorium in the Zengcheng district told the AFP news agency that more than 30 bodies were cremated every day.

“We have allocated bodies from other districts. There is no other option,” said the employee.

Another crematorium in the city said they were also “extremely busy”.

“It’s three or four times busier than previous years, we’re burning over 40 bodies a day where before it was only about a dozen,” said an employee.

“All of Guangzhou is like that,” they added, stressing that it’s “hard to say” whether the surge in bodies is related to Covid.

In the northeastern city of Shenyang, a funeral home official said the bodies of the deceased would remain unburied for up to five days because the crematoria were “absolutely full.”

Asked by AFP if the increase in demand was due to Covid, he said: “What do you think? I have never experienced a year like this.”

“mutation potential”

In the capital Beijing, local authorities reported just five deaths from Covid-19 on Tuesday – down from two the previous day.

Outside the city’s Dongjiao Crematorium, AFP reporters saw more than a dozen vehicles waiting to be let in, most of them hearses or funeral carriages.

Delays were evident as a driver at the front of the queue told AFP he had already been waiting for several hours.

It wasn’t immediately clear if an increase in Covid deaths was causing the backlog, and crematorium staff declined to answer questions.

The end of mandatory testing has made it difficult to track the toll of China’s Covid surge, with authorities admitting last week it’s now “impossible” to count how many have fallen ill.

Beijing health officials said Tuesday only those who died directly from respiratory failure caused by the virus would be included in the Covid death count.

“After infection with the Omicron variant, the main cause of death at present remains the underlying diseases,” said Wang Guiqiang of Beijing University First Hospital at a press conference of the National Health Commission (NHC).

“Old people have other underlying diseases, only a very small number die directly from respiratory failure caused by infection with Covid,” they added.

“We are not avoiding the dangers of Covid. At the same time, we need to scientifically assess the dangers of Covid.”

The US State Department said on Monday the increase is now an international concern.

“We know that whenever the virus is in the wild, it spreads, has the potential to mutate and threatens people everywhere,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

“The toll of the virus is worrying for the rest of the world given the size of China’s GDP and the size of the Chinese economy,” he added.

(AFP)

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