China reported its first Covid-related deaths for Dec. 18 ever since the country eased its zero-Covid policy, after weeks of nationwide protests.
However, there are also reports of surging Covid cases and official data being incongruent with ground reality.
Two deaths reported since Dec. 3
The National Health Commission (NHC) of China reported two new deaths for Dec. 18, bringing the official death toll to 5,237.
The figure has been stuck at 5,235 deaths since Dec. 7, the day which China announced an easing of Covid restrictions and a move away from its zero-Covid policy.
Including the two deaths, China has reported a total of 11 Covid deaths since mid-November 2022.
The country's last reported deaths were on Dec. 3, when two were recorded, according to Nikkei Asia.
On Dec. 17, journalists from Reuters reported that they witnessed hearses queuing up to enter a crematorium meant for Covid-19 cremations in Beijing and that there were workers donned in hazmat suits transporting the deceased.
However, they did not confirm if the deaths were caused by Covid.
A surge in demand at Beijing crematoriums has also been reported by AFP.
Funeral industry sources in Beijing and Guangzhou have also told Nikkei Asia that the number of funerals held have surged.
Two funeral homes also claim that they had been operating continuously and providing same-day crematorium services to keep up with the sheer number of deaths.
Ordinary Chinese think cases are underreported
In response to the two reported deaths, a hashtag began trending on Weibo, which roughly translates to #BeijingTwoNewDeathCases.
A netizen, usernamed “Beijing de Huizi”, posted the following on Dec. 19 (roughly translated):
You know the official figure is inaccurate.
I also know the official figure is inaccurate.
The official figure cannot possibly be accurate.
So what’s the point of the official figure?”
Other social media users questioned the significance of the NHC reporting on two additional deaths since the figure allegedly does not reflect the actual death toll. Some others have also said that they knew someone who died from Covid-19.
Medication running out
An article by Financial Times (FT) reported on Dec. 8 that Beijing was facing its first large Covid wave, with the city reported to be running out of medical supplies, specifically fever medication and Antigen Rapid Test (ART) kits.
Queues reportedly formed in freezing winter weather as people queued for fever medication like paracetamol and ibuprofen. However, they were turned away almost immediately as pharmacists said they were completely out of stock.
As a result of the medicine shortage, some Chinese nationals living in Singapore started sending medication back home due to concerns that their family might not be able to get their hands on them.
Many cases and deaths apparently remain unreported
According to Zhou Jiatong, the head of the Center for Disease Control in southwestern Guangxi region, China could risk more than two million deaths with the loosening of Covid curbs, an earlier article by Reuters reported.
The number of reported cases in China has supposedly dropped since Dec. 8, the day when the Chinese government abandoned its zero-Covid policy, with the number dropping from 21,093 cases on Dec. 8 to 2,283 cases on Dec. 19.
On Dec. 14, the NHC announced that it would stop keeping track of asymptomatic cases in its daily infections count and the official notice stated that it was “ impossible to get accurate statistics for asymptomatic cases given the fact that many asymptomatic cases choose not to take nucleic acid tests”. This means asymptomatic cases are no longer included in official data.
According to CNN, the search for “funeral homes” on Baidu have reportedly hit a record high, though it is unconfirmed if the increase in demand for funerals was due to Covid-related deaths.
Top image via Getty/SOPA Images & Future Publishing