BEIJING: Funeral homes across China’s COVID-19 hit capital Beijing, a city of 22 million, scrambled on Saturday (Dec 17) to keep up with calls for funeral and cremation services as workers and drivers testing positive for the novel coronavirus called in sick.
After declaring that the Omicron strain has weakened, and unprecedented public protests against a zero-COVID policy championed by President Xi Jinping, China abruptly shifted its COVID-19 management protocols more than a week ago.
Moving away from endless testing, lockdowns and heavy travel restrictions, China is realigning with a world that has largely reopened to live with COVID-19.
China has told its population of 1.4 billion to nurse their mild symptoms at home unless symptoms become severe, as cities across China brace for their first waves of infections.
In Beijing, which has yet to report any COVID-19 deaths since the policies changed on Dec 7, sick workers have hit the staffing of services from restaurants and courier firms to its roughly one dozen funeral parlours.
“We’ve fewer cars and workers now,” a staffer at Miyun Funeral Home told Reuters, adding that there was a mounting backlog of demand for cremation services.
“We’ve many workers who tested positive.”
It was not immediately clear if the struggle to meet the increased demand for cremation was due to a rise in COVID-19 related deaths.
At Huairou Funeral Home, a body had to wait for three days before it could be cremated, a staffer said.
“You can transport the body here yourself, it’s been busy recently,” the staffer said.
China’s health authority last reported COVID-19 deaths on Dec 3. The Chinese capital last reported a fatality on Nov 23.
Yet respected Chinese news outlet Caixin reported on Friday that two veteran state media journalists had died after contracting COVID-19 in Beijing, among the first known deaths since China dismantled most of its zero-COVID policies. And on Saturday, Caixin reported a 23-year-old medical student in Sichuan died of COVID-19 on Dec 14.
Still, the National Health Commission on Saturday reported no change to its official COVID death tally of 5,235.
China’s abrupt lifting of its ultra-strict policies could cause over a million deaths through 2023, according to the US-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
Had those policies been lifted earlier, say on Jan 3 this year, 250,000 people in China would have died, prominent Chinese epidemiologist Wu Zunyou said on Saturday.