Crematoria Strained Beyond Capacity, Cold Storages Run Out of Space

New Delhi: With the surge of COVID-19 cases, crematoria across China have been strained beyond their capacity to handle the steady flow of the dead. Crematorium workers are working overtime because cold storage is running out of space to cope with the influx of bodies, the AFP news agency reported.

Authorities say it has become “impossible” to keep track of cases and deaths after the government lifted years of lockdown restrictions and relaxed quarantine rules and mass testing following protests across the country.

The problem of leaking incinerators is reported throughout the country from the north-east to the south-west. A worker at a crematorium in Chongqing told AFP they had run out of room to store the bodies. Authorities in Chongqing told its 30 million people to go to work despite mild COVID symptoms.

“The number of bodies received in the last days is much higher than before. We are so busy, there is no more room in the fridge for bodies. We’re not sure (if it’s related to Covid), you have to ask the authorities,” a worker at a crematorium in Chongqing told AFP.

A similar situation is happening in the southern megacity of Guangzhou. A worker at the crematorium told the news agency that more than 30 bodies are being burned a day, a much higher number than usual. The situation is such that bodies from other districts are assigned to manage the ongoing crisis, the employee added.

“It is three to four times more crowded than in previous years, we are burning more than 40 bodies every day, when there were only a dozen,” a worker at another crematorium in the city told AFP.

Crematorium workers say “the whole of Guangzhou is like this”, adding that it is “difficult” to say whether the death toll is due to COVID-19.

In the northeastern country’s city of Shenyang, bodies remain unburied and untreated for up to five days because crematoriums are “completely full,” according to those involved in the funeral service business.

“What do you think? I have never known a year like this,” answered an employee of a store that organizes funeral services to an AFP question.

Men in protective clothing walk on the street during an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Beijing, China, November 28, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Although authorities reported five deaths in the capital Beijing on Tuesday, December 20, the situation outside the crematoriums is completely different.

Outside the Dongjiao Crematorium on the outskirts of Beijing, more than a dozen vehicles carrying the dead were waiting to enter the crematorium on Tuesday. Bus drivers told the news agency that they had been waiting for their turn to enter the venue for “several hours”.

It is not yet clear whether the surge in COVID cases and related deaths is causing an unprecedented rush at crematoria.

Without mandatory testing, authorities say it is “impossible” to monitor how many have become ill and how many lives are being lost.

The sudden policy change has caught the country’s fragile health system unprepared, with hospitals scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies scrambling for drugs and authorities racing to build special clinics. Experts predict now China can face more than a million covid dead next year.

China uses a narrow definition covid The death toll, which had reported no new deaths as of Tuesday and removed an overall tally since the pandemic began, now stands at 5,241 – a fraction of what countries with far fewer populations have had to deal with.

Health officials in Beijing said on Tuesday, December 20, that only those who die of respiratory illnesses caused by the virus would be counted among the COVID deaths.

“Today after being infected with the Omicron variant, the main cause of death remains the underlying diseases,” Wang Guiqiang of the First Hospital of Peking University said at a National Health Commission (NHC) press conference.

Guiqiang added that the elderly have other underlying conditions and that “only a very small number die directly from respiratory failure caused by Covid infection”.

Responding to the emerging situation in China, the United States said on Monday, December 19, that the outbreak in China is “now a matter of international concern”.

“We know that any time a virus is spreading, it’s in the wild, it has the potential to mutate and pose a threat to people everywhere,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told AFP.

Price also said that an outbreak of COVID would have a detrimental effect on the global economy, given the size of China’s GDP and economy.

(With contributions from Reuters)

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