BEIJING ( Associated Press) – Outside a funeral home in eastern Beijing, dozens of people sheltered from frigid temperatures with coats and hats on Friday night as workers in protective suits removed coffins one by one. ,
When an employee with a clipboard called out someone’s name, a relative would come to the casket to examine the body. One of the people waiting told The Associated Press that his relative had contracted COVID-19.
The coronavirus-linked deaths appear in Beijing after weeks without fatalities reported by Chinese officials, although the country is in the midst of a rebound in cases.
The increase comes after the government heavily eased some of the pandemic’s containment measures, which were among the strictest in the world. The executive said on Wednesday that it would stop reporting asymptomatic cases as it is impossible to track them once mass screening is not mandated.
This does not make it clear how fast the virus is spreading. Posts on social networks, business closures and other empirical evidence suggest the number of infected is higher.
The number of deaths from the disease is also unclear. Relatives told an Associated Press reporter who visited the Dongjiao Funeral Home that at least two people performing the last rites there had tested positive for the virus.
According to a relative of one of the deceased, health officials had designated Dongjiao and another funeral home for the cremation of infected people. The woman said an elderly relative fell ill in early December, tested positive, and died in an emergency room on Friday morning.
There were too many people with COVID-19 in the ward, he said, noting that there were not enough nurses to take care of them. The woman did not want to reveal her identity for fear of slander.
Over the course of about an hour, an Associated Press reporter saw about a dozen bodies being carried out of the funeral home.
Three shopkeepers in the premises housing the funeral home said there has been a significant increase in the number of people visiting there in recent days. An estimated 150 bodies are cremated daily, up from the earlier usual few dozen.
One of the employees attributed this to the coronavirus, although another pointed out that more deaths usually occur with the arrival of winter. The employees did not want to reveal their identity for fear of retaliation.
China has not reported deaths from COVID-19 since 4 December.
The country’s official death toll from the virus is low with just 5,235 deaths compared to 1.1 million in the United States. But public health experts caution that a direct comparison cannot be made between the two figures.
Chinese health officials only count people who die directly from COVID-19, excluding those with previous illnesses that were exacerbated by the virus. In many other countries, guidelines stipulate that any death in which the coronavirus has contributed should be counted as a COVID-19-related death.
Experts say this is standard practice in China, but it has been called into question as authorities try to downplay the numbers.
Also on Friday, the government ordered rural areas to prepare for the return of migrant workers for the winter holidays to prevent a large increase in infections in communities with limited medical resources.
Returnees must wear masks and avoid contact with the elderly, and local committees must monitor their movements according to regulations, which do not mention the possibility of isolation or quarantine.
Associated Press writer Kanis Leung contributed from Hong Kong.