Crematoria in China are struggling with the spread of COVID | Coronavirus Pandemic News

Crematoria in cities across China are struggling to cope with an influx of bodies amid a widening COVID-19 outbreak, media reports say, as authorities scramble to set up hospital beds and build clinics for fever screening.

Crematoria in the cities of Beijing, Chongqing and Guangzhou told AFP on Tuesday that they were much busier than normal, with one of the facilities reporting that they were running out of space for corpses.

However, the news agency said it was not possible to determine if the increase in deaths was related to COVID-19 because staff members declined to answer questions.

In the capital Beijing, security forces patrolled the entrance of a designated COVID-19 crematorium, where more than a dozen vehicles were waiting to enter.

Delays in entering the crematorium were evident, AFP said, when a driver at the front of the queue told the news outlet he had already been waiting for several hours.

In Chongqing — a city of 30 million where authorities this week urged people with “mild” COVID-19 symptoms to go to work — a crematorium told AFP they were running out of space to store bodies be.

“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.

When asked if the deaths were related to COVID-19, staffers told AFP to ask the “responsible executives.”

In the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, a crematorium in the Zengcheng district said it cremates more than 30 bodies a day.

“We are assigned bodies from other districts. There is no other way,” said one 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. We’ve been getting calls all the time,” they added, stressing that it’s “hard to say” if the surge in bodies is related to COVID-19.

In downtown Baoding, a crematorium employee told AFP, “Of course we are busy, which workplace is not busy right now?”

Low official toll

Despite the reported strain on crematoria, the National Health Commission on Tuesday reported five COVID-19 deaths, followed by two on Monday, all of which occurred in the capital and were the first fatalities reported in weeks.

Overall, China has reported just 5,242 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic broke out in downtown Wuhan in late 2019 — a very low number by global standards.

But there are growing doubts the statistics reflect the true fallout of a disease raging through Chinese cities after authorities this month began to ease the country’s strict “zero-COVID” regime with lockdowns and testing following widespread protests to mine against the curbs.

Since restrictions were lifted, some hospitals have been swamped, pharmacies drained of medicines, while many people have slipped into self-imposed lockdowns, straining delivery services.

Some health experts estimate that 60 percent of the nation’s 1.4 billion people could become infected in the coming months and that more than two million could die.

The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times, meanwhile, said experts estimate about 2.7 million people with COVID-19 need treatment in intensive care units (ICUs).

The tabloid said cities across the country are stepping up efforts to expand intensive care units and bolster their reserves of medical supplies, including in Guangzhou, where authorities increased the number of intensive care unit beds from 455 to 1,385 in order to expand to one to prepare for the predicted peak of the epidemic in early January.

The media outlet also quoted observers as saying that the lack of fully trained medical staff for the facilities remained a major challenge even while intensive care units were being built.

In addition to installing new beds, cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Wenzhou said they have set up hundreds of fever clinics, some in converted sports facilities.

The virus is also hitting China’s economy, which is expected to grow less than 3 percent this year, its worst performance in nearly half a century.

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