- Overwhelmed funeral homes in China are struggling with a deluge of deaths as the country exits its zero-COVID stance.
- One facility is so busy that it’s giving families only 5 to 10 minutes to mourn, per Bloomberg.
- Demand for funeral services is so high that people are queuing outside funeral homes to sell their spots.
As a reopening China grapples with a tsunami of new COVID infections, its funeral parlors have become the latest industry under siege.
So many people are dying in Shanghai that one funeral home — handling five times more corpses than usual per day — is giving families only five to 10 minutes to mourn the dead in an unelaborate manner, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.
Longhua Funeral Home laid out bodies out on stretchers, allowing mourners to briefly pay their respects before being ushered away, the outlet wrote.
“The whole system is paralyzed right now,” one Longhua employee told Bloomberg.
People on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, posted videos of long lines outside the funeral home, with one user saying at least thirty people had already started queuing at 2 am on December 27. Insider could not independently verify the authenticity of these videos.
Demand for funeral services is so high that people started queuing outside crematoriums to sell their spots at marked up prices.
At Baoxing Funeral Parlor, another funeral home in Shanghai, local police on December 29 arrested 20 scalpers who were queuing “without the need for funeral services” and death certificates, the city’s public security bureau said on December 30.
Even in Beijing, public services have been under enormous strain for weeks. Health authorities said on December 11 that emergency services were overwhelmed with more than 30,000 calls per day, according to Beijing Daily.
Chen Zhi, chief physician at the Beijing Emergency Medical Center, pleaded with residents to only call medical hotlines if they were critically ill. “Currently, the resources for answering emergency calls and dispatching ambulances are very tight,” he said, per Beijing Daily.
COVID death toll in China remains a mystery
The true number of China’s deaths after its rapid reopening remains unknown. The central government only counts deaths from pneumonia or respiratory failure in its official COVID death toll, excluding patients with other pre-existing illnesses.
So far, official reports from the country’s National Health Commission have only acknowledged six new coronavirus deaths since December 6 — when President Xi Jinping’s administration announced a sudden rollback of its zero-COVID policy.
The official death tally for the entire pandemic — starting in 2019 — stood at 5,241 fatalities on December 24, 2022 when the count was last updated. On Christmas Day, the commission announced it would no longer provide daily updates to its coronavirus figures amid a deluge of new cases.
Data firms elsewhere in the world believe China’s death toll could reach millions in a span of several months.
UK-based health data firm Airfinity estimated that 9,000 people were dying of COVID every day in China, and predicted a total death toll of 1.7 million from the start of the reopening until April.
Another analysis firm, Auckland-based Wigram Capital Advisors, warned that 1 million Chinese people would die of COVID during the winter.
Meanwhile, officials at China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in internal discussions that 250 million people were infected with COVID in the first 20 days of December. The Financial Times reported, citing two people familiar with the matter. If true, those numbers contradict the government’s latest official count of 348,000 infections.
The expected surge in infections among China’s relatively COVID-vulnerable population has the rest of the world on guard. The US and Japan have imposed coronavirus test requirements on travelers from China, while Morocco has outright banned entry for all such travelers.
In response, Beijing lashed out at nations imposing travel restrictions, saying they “lack scientific basis” and calling them “excessive measures.” Spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a press conference: “We firmly reject using COVID measures for political purposes and will take corresponding measures in response to varying situations based on the principle of reciprocity.”
Longhua Funeral Home, Baoxing Funeral Parlor, and China’s National Health Commission did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.