In Covid-hit Beijing, funeral homes with sick workers are struggling to stay afloat

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Dec 17 (Reuters) – Funeral homes in Beijing, China’s Covid-hit capital of 22 million people, resumed calls for funerals and cremation services on Saturday as workers and drivers tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Sick.

China abruptly changed its COVID management protocols a week ago amid unprecedented public protests against President Xi Jinping’s zero-covid policy after announcing that the Omicron strain had weakened.

Away from endless tests, lockdowns and strict travel restrictions, China is rejoining the reopened world to live with Covid.

China has told China’s population of 1.4 billion to take care of their mild symptoms at home unless their symptoms become severe, as cities across China prepare for their first outbreaks.

In Beijing, Dec. No Covid deaths have been reported since the policy change on the 7th, when sick workers have hit restaurants and courier companies providing services to about a dozen funeral homes.

“We now have fewer cars and workers,” an employee at Miyun Funeral Home told Reuters, adding that demand for cremation services is increasing.

“We have several workers who have tested positive.”

It was not immediately clear whether the struggle to meet the increased demand for cremations was due to the increase in Covid-related deaths.

At Huairou Funeral Home, a body had to wait three days before it could be cremated, an employee said.

“You can take the body here yourself, it’s been busy lately,” the waiter said.

China’s Health Commission last reported Covid deaths on December 3. The Chinese capital last recorded a death on November 23.

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However, respected Chinese news agency Caixin reported on Friday that two senior state journalists had died of COVID-19 in Beijing, among the first known deaths since China scrapped its zero-covid policies. On Saturday, Caixin reported that a 23-year-old medical student in Sichuan died of Covid on December 14.

However, the National Health Commission on Saturday reported no change in its official COVID death toll of 5,235.

According to the US-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a sudden unwinding of China’s extreme policies could cause more than a million deaths by 2023.

Wu Junyu, a prominent Chinese epidemiologist, said on Saturday that 250,000 people would have died in China by January 3 this year if those policies had been lifted earlier.

As of Dec. 5, the proportion of seriously or critically ill Covid patients has dropped to 0.18% of reported cases from 3.32% last year and 16.47% in 2020, Wu said.

This shows that China’s death rate is gradually declining, he said without elaborating.

It is not clear whether the proportion of seriously ill people has changed since December 5. Routine PCR testing and mandatory reporting of cases was canceled on December 7.

‘Ordinary Deaths’

“There are long lines of coffins here, and it’s hard to tell when slots will be available,” said an employee at Dongjiao Funeral Home.

“Normal deaths,” the employee said when asked if the deaths were related to Covid.

The lack of reported Covid deaths over the past 10 days has sparked debate on social media over data disclosure, fueled by a lack of statistics on hospitalizations and the number of seriously ill people.

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“Why can’t we find these figures? What’s going on? They don’t calculate them or they don’t report them?” A netizen has asked a question on a Chinese social network.

China stopped publishing asymptomatic cases from Wednesday, making it difficult to accurately calculate the total number due to the lack of PCR testing among people without symptoms.

Official figures have become an unreliable guide as fewer tests are being carried out across the country following the relaxation of zero-covid policies.

In the city of Shanghai, about 1,000 km (620 miles) south of Beijing, local education officials said on Saturday that most schools will hold classes online from Monday to deal with worsening Covid infections across China.

In a sign of an impending staffing crunch, the Shanghai Disney Resort said on Saturday that entertainment offerings may be reduced to a smaller staff, although the theme park is still operating normally.

Reporting by Ryan Wu in Beijing and Winnie Zhu in Shanghai, with additional reporting by Jindong Zhang; Editing by Tom Hogue

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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