The death toll in Beijing rises as Covid sweeps through the Chinese capital

Evidence of a wave of Covid-19 deaths is emerging in Beijing, although official records show no fatalities since an uncontrolled outbreak swept through China’s capital this week.

Workers at a crematorium in Beijing said they cremated the bodies of at least 30 Covid victims on Wednesday, and reporters from the Financial Times saw two body bags at a special hospital for coronavirus patients.

“We cremated 150 bodies [on Wednesday], many times more than a typical day last winter,” said an employee at the Beijing Dongjiao state funeral home, who asked not to be named. “Thirty or 40 had Covid.”

“We’ll do it as soon as possible [and] Prioritizing Covid deaths,” the staffer added. “We cremate them the same day they are brought in.”

Chinese officials have reported no Covid-related deaths nationwide since December 4. However, workers at two Beijing crematoria said the total number of deaths is much higher than normal as the capital is hit by its first significant coronavirus outbreak.

The two body bags were visible in a room next to the lobby of Shuangqiao Hospital designated for Covid patients. An 86-year-old Covid patient in a wheelchair struggled to keep his eyes open in a hallway. The man’s relatives, who asked not to be named, said he stopped eating shortly after contracting the virus four days earlier.

At Chui Yang Liu Hospital, which treats Covid and non-Covid patients, four bodies on stretchers were covered with white cloth and pushed to the side of the emergency room Thursday night. “Some had [Covid] and some don’t,” said one paramedic.

FT reporters saw another man on the floor in an entryway gasping for air on Thursday but could not confirm if he had Covid.

On Friday morning, the man, who appeared to be in his 60s, remained lying in the same spot, looking extremely pale. A small group of people carrying a coffin out the door said it contained the body of a relative who had died from Covid.

The virus is sweeping through the Chinese capital just a week after authorities abandoned nationwide zero-Covid controls with little warning, leaving many Beijing residents struggling to find medicine and access medical care. The surge is pushing the healthcare system to its limits, and medical workers in the capital are being asked to stay on the job even if they become infected.

China’s National Health Commission on Wednesday stopped providing the total number of Covid cases and reported no deaths in the country since Dec. 4, when the top medical body recorded two deaths in Shandong and Sichuan provinces a day earlier.

But on Thursday, a line of black vans carrying caskets and cars full of mourners snaked through the crowded parking lot outside Beijing’s Dongjiao Funeral Home. A driver, who asked not to be named, said he and his colleagues bring in 20 to 30 bodies a day, compared to four or five on typical days.

A Beijing resident, Wei Yansu, said her grandmother died in neighboring Hebei Province this week, four days after she was diagnosed with Covid. “She was infected during this outbreak wave and caused a cerebral infarction,” Wei said.

Signs around the Tongzhou Funeral Home in Beijing’s eastern suburbs say that since last Sunday the facility began limiting the number of bodies of people registered outside the district for “blast furnace maintenance.”

Both crematoria referred questions to the Beijing Civil Affairs Department, which did not respond to a request for comment. China’s NHC and the Beijing Health Commission did not respond to requests for comment. Phone calls to Shuangqiao Hospital went unanswered after doctors working there said they could not speak to the media.

Staff at the Tongzhou Funeral Home, who asked not to be identified, told the FT the facility is facing unusually high demand and is having “Covid deaths every day”, although it is not clear how many of the deaths are Covid-related overall related.

“We burn from morning to 10 p.m.,” said one. “The ovens can’t stand it.”

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