In COVID-hit Beijing, funeral homes with sick workers are struggling to keep up

BEIJING/SHANGHAI, December 17 (Reuters) - Funeral homes across China's COVID-hit capital Beijing, a city of 22 million, rushed Saturday to fulfill requests for funeral and cremation services as workers and drivers tested positive for the virus. Corona is said to be sick.

After declaring that the Omicron strain had weakened, and the unprecedented public outcry against the zero-COVID policy championed by President Xi Jinping, China abruptly changed its COVID management protocol just over a week ago.

Moving on from relentless testing, lockdowns and tough travel restrictions, China is realigning with a world that has largely reopened to living with COVID.

China has told its population of 1.4 billion to treat their mild symptoms at home unless they become severe, as cities across China brace for their first wave of infections.

In Beijing, which has not reported a COVID death since policy was changed on Dec. 7, sick workers have hit staffing services from restaurants and courier companies to about a dozen funeral homes. "We have fewer cars and workers now," a staff at the Miyun Funeral Home told Reuters, adding that there was a growing pile of requests for cremation services.

"We have a lot of 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 the Huairou Funeral Home, bodies must wait for three days before they can be cremated, said a staff member.

"You can bring the body here yourself, it's been busy recently," said the staff.

Chinese health authorities last reported a death from COVID on December 3. The Chinese capital last reported a death on November 23.

But respected Chinese news outlet Caixin reported on Friday that two veteran government media journalists had died after contracting COVID-19 in Beijing, among the first known deaths since China largely dismantled its zero-COVID policy. And on Saturday, Caixin reported that a 23-year-old medical student in Sichuan had died of COVID on Dec. 14.

However, the National Health Commission on Saturday reported no change to the official death toll from COVID-19 of 5,235.

A sudden lifting of China's ultra-strict policies could lead to more than a million deaths by 2023, according to the US-based Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

Had the policy been lifted earlier, say on January 3 this year, 250,000 people in China would have died, top Chinese epidemiologist Wu Zunyou said on Saturday.

As of December 5, the proportion of severely or critically ill COVID patients had fallen to 0.18% of reported cases, Wu said, from 3.32% last year and 16.47% in 2020.

This indicated China's death rate was gradually falling, he said, without elaborating.

It is unclear whether the proportion of seriously ill patients has changed since December 5. Regular PCR tests and mandatory reporting of cases were abolished on 7 December.


"There is a long queue for hearses here, and it is difficult to say when there will be an available slot," said a staff member at the Dongjiao Funeral Home.

"Normal death," said the staffer, when asked if the death was COVID-related.

The lack of reported COVID deaths over the last 10 days has sparked debate on social media about disclosing data, also fueled by a lack of statistics on hospitalizations and the number of seriously ill patients.

"Why can't these statistics be found? What happened? Did they not calculate it or did they not publish it?" asked a netizen on Chinese social media.

China stopped publishing asymptomatic cases starting Wednesday, citing a lack of PCR tests among asymptomatic people which makes it difficult to calculate the total number accurately.

Official figures have been an unreliable guide as less testing is being carried out across the country following the easing of the zero-COVID policy.

In Shanghai, more than 1,000 km (620 miles) south of Beijing, local education authorities on Saturday told most schools to hold online classes starting Monday, to tackle worsening COVID infections across China.

In a sign of impending staff shortages, Shanghai Disney Resort said on Saturday that its entertainment offerings could be reduced to a smaller workforce, even though the theme park was still operating normally. This article was written by EDUKASI CAMPUS. 

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