Overflowing crematoriums in Chinese cities due to numerous deaths 3:18
For much of the pandemic, images of overflowing hospitals and crowded funeral homes across the United States have featured largely on state-controlled television in China, where the deaths of more than a million Americans from of covid-19 is described as a serious failure of western democracy.
Now, as an unprecedented wave of infections sweeps through China, its state media is pointedly ignoring scenes of crowded hospital wards and packed crematoria in the country as officials insist that, by the government's own count, few people are dying of it. covid-19.
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For nearly three years, China's hardline zero-COVID policy shielded its population from the kind of mass deaths that plagued Western nations, a contrast the Communist Party has repeated repeatedly to illustrate its government's supposed superiority.
But as China abruptly abandoned that strategy, with little warning or apparent preparation, the possibility of an increase in deaths, projected by some studies to be as high as 1 million, has become a thorny issue for a government that staked its legitimacy on "save lifes".
Officially, China reported just eight deaths from Covid-19 this month, a surprisingly low number given the rapid spread of the virus and relatively low booster rates among the vulnerable elderly.
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The official tally has been met with disbelief and ridicule online, where posts mourning loved ones dying of covid-19 abound.
Caixin, a Chinese financial magazine known for its investigative articles, reported the deaths of two veteran state media journalists infected with covid-19, on days when the official number was zero.
Other social media posts have described the frustration experienced by many trying to obtain a hearse and the difficulty of securing a cremation location at a funeral home.
When CNN visited a major crematorium in Beijing on Tuesday, the parking lot was completely packed, with a long line of cars winding around the cremation ground waiting to get inside.
Smoke billowed constantly from the ovens, while yellow body bags were piled inside metal bins.
Hearses line up to enter a crematorium in Beijing on December 22.
Grieving relatives waiting in line held up photos of the deceased.
Some told CNN they had been waiting for more than a day to cremate their loved ones, who died after contracting covid-19.
A man told CNN that the hospital where his friend died was too full to keep the body, because so many people had died there.
The body of his friend was left on the hospital floor, he said.
At nearby stores that sell funeral goods, a florist said she was running low on stock, and a convenience store owner said business had never been busier.
In many parts of the country, crematoriums are also struggling to keep up with the influx of bodies, according to images on social media.
Outside a Beijing hospital designated for Covid-19 patients, a steady stream of elderly wheelchair-bound patients entered the facility as CNN visited on Tuesday.
A man outside the hospital said that he was running out of space and that he had to go the night before to register his elderly relative for a bed.
A worker in a hazmat suit, who was sorting yellow bags of medical waste, said he had been working overtime at night to deal with the surge in Covid-19 patients.
“There are a lot of older people in particular,” he said.
Elderly Covid-19 patients with underlying conditions were dying every day, the worker said.
Covid-19 death count
Faced with growing skepticism that it is downplaying Covid-19 deaths, the Chinese government defended the accuracy of its official tally by revealing that it had updated its method of counting deaths from the virus.
According to the latest guidelines from the National Health Commission, only those whose death is caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure after contracting the virus are classified as Covid-19 deaths, Wang Guiqiang, a leading infectious disease doctor, told a conference. press on Tuesday.
Those deemed to have died due to another underlying disease or condition, such as a heart attack, will not be counted as a virus death, even if they were sick with Covid-19 at the time, he said.
Commenting on China's criteria for counting Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, World Health Organization emergencies chief Michael Ryan said the definition was "quite limited."
“People who are dying from covid are dying from many different (organ) system failures, given the severity of the infection,” Ryan said.
"Therefore, limiting a diagnosis of COVID death to someone with a positive COVID test and respiratory failure will greatly underestimate the true number of COVID-associated deaths."
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According to Wang, the Chinese doctor, the change in definition was necessitated by the mild nature of the omicron variant, which is different from the Wuhan strain at the start of the pandemic, when most patients died of pneumonia and respiratory failure.
But Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong, pointed out that this is more or less the same strict criteria that Chinese authorities have used to count Covid-19 deaths all along.
The definition was slightly expanded in April this year to include some Covid-19 patients who died of underlying conditions during the Shanghai lockdown to justify the draconian restrictions, Jin said.
During Shanghai's March-May outbreak, city officials reported 588 Covid deaths out of some 600,000 infections.
But once the city's lockdown was lifted, the number of deaths across the country remained at zero for the next six months, even as the number of infections reached hundreds of thousands.
Then, in late November, Beijing announced that three octogenarians had died from underlying Covid-19 conditions, just as the city increased its own restrictions amid a widening outbreak.
According to Jin, these inconsistencies reveal that China's method of counting COVID-19 deaths is "totally subjective."
“The death data has been misleading from the beginning,” she said.
Counting Covid-19 deaths versus Covid-19 deaths has been a topic of debate around the world since the start of the pandemic, said Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong.
Most countries, including the United States, have decided it is too difficult to test every death to know if Covid-19 was a factor, and have counted Covid-19 deaths in their official death figures, Cowling said.
But he noted that the debate over how to count Covid-19 deaths would be overshadowed by a bigger problem in China, namely too few PCR tests being done after the government reversed mass testing.
“We know that many, many deaths from covid-19 are already occurring.
And those are not being counted with the Chinese method or with the American method, because the tests are not being done, ”he said.
“The substantial reduction in testing would have a bigger effect on the death statistics that we will see in the next one to two months.”