- Hearses queue outside the Beijing crematorium
- China reports no new deaths; some criticize his accounting
- Beijing faces surge in severe COVID cases in next two weeks: expert
BEIJING, Dec 21 (Reuters) – Dozens of hearses queued outside a Beijing crematorium on Wednesday, even as China reported no new deaths from COVID-19 in its growing outbreak, drawing criticism over its accounting of the virus as the Capital prepares for an increase in cases.
Following widespread protests, the country of 1.4 billion people this month began dismantling its unpopular “zero-COVID” lockdown and testing regime that had largely kept the virus in check for three years, albeit at great financial and psychological.
The abrupt change in policy has caught a fragile health system off guard with hospitals scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies for medicines and authorities scrambling to build special clinics. Experts predict that China could face more than a million COVID deaths next year.
At a crematorium in Beijing’s Tongzhou district, a Reuters witness saw a line of about 40 hearses waiting to enter while the parking lot was full.
Inside, family and friends, many dressed in traditional white clothing and mourning headbands, gathered around 20 coffins awaiting cremation. Staff wore hazmat suits and smoke was billowing from five of the 15 furnaces.
There was a heavy police presence outside the crematorium.
Reuters was unable to verify whether the deaths were caused by COVID.
Some Beijing residents have to wait days to cremate relatives or pay steep fees to ensure faster service, funeral home workers said.
A Beijing funeral home worker posted on social media an offer for “quick hearses, no cremation lines” for a fee of 26,000 yuan ($3,730).
Reuters could not verify the offer.
China uses a narrow definition of COVID deaths and reported no new deaths for Tuesday, even scratching one off its overall tally since the pandemic began, now at 5,241, a fraction of the tolls of many far less populous countries.
The National Health Commission said Tuesday that only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure in patients who had the virus are classified as COVID deaths.
Benjamin Mazer, an assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University, said the classification would miss “a lot of cases,” especially since people who are vaccinated, even with Chinese shots, are less likely to die of pneumonia.
Blood cloths, heart problems, and sepsis, an extreme response of the body to infection, have caused countless deaths among COVID patients around the world.
“It doesn’t make sense to apply this kind of March 2020 mentality where only COVID pneumonia can kill you,” Mazer said.
“There are all kinds of medical complications.”
The death toll could rise sharply in the near future, as the state-run Global Times newspaper quotes a Chinese respiratory expert predicting a spike in severe cases in Beijing in the coming weeks.
“We must act quickly and prepare fever clinics, emergency resources and severe treatment,” Wang Guangfa, a respiratory specialist at Peking University First Hospital, told the newspaper.
Wang had expected the wave of COVID to peak in late January, with life likely to return to normal in late February or early March.
The NHC also downplayed international concern about the possibility of virus mutations, saying the likelihood of new strains being more pathogenic was low.
Paul Tambyah, president of the Asia Pacific Society for Clinical Microbiology and Infections, supported that view.
“I don’t think this is a threat to the world,” he said. “Most likely, the virus behaves like any other human virus and adapts to the environment in which it circulates by becoming more transmissible and less virulent.”
Several prominent scientists and advisers to the World Health Organization told Reuters that a potentially devastating wave in China means it could be too early to declare an end to the global pandemic emergency.
Some US and European officials have offered to help mitigate a crisis they fear will damage the global economy and disrupt supply chains.
From the epicenter in northern China, infections are spreading to manufacturing belts, including the Yangtze River Delta near Shanghai, disrupting workforce.
retail and financial services companies They have been hit hard by staff shortages, and factories are not far behind, say industry bodies.
Staff from the Communist Party and government institutions or companies in the southwestern city of Chongqing who have mild COVID symptoms are allowed to go to work if they wear a mask, the state-run China Daily reported.
Other outlets reported similar decisions in other cities.
China is still largely cut off from the outside world with COVID restrictions on international travel, but there are signs those rules are being relaxed as well.
Chelsea Xiang, 35, said she only needed to quarantine for two days in the southwestern city of Chengdu after returning from Hong Kong on Sunday, instead of the officially required minimum of five.
“I feel like I have my human rights again,” Xiang said.
Reporting by Thomas Peter, Alessandro Diviggiano, Albee Zhang, Bernard Orr, Martin Pollard, Eduardo Baptista, Joe Cash, and Ryan Woo in Beijing, Casey Hall in Shanghai, Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago, and Chen Lin in Singapore; Written by Marius Zaharia; Edited by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Leave a Comment