Devastated mourners forced to burn their own dead loved ones as China’s ‘zero Covid’ approach backfires

Published by The Sun (3rd January, 2023)

After the man’s grandmother died from Covid, he went to a major crematorium in the Chinese city of Chengdu to sort out funeral arrangements for his ­family.

Instead he found “hearses stacked with dead bodies” outside the building — and an official who apologetically explained that, despite burning more than 1,000 corpses a day and banning funeral ceremonies, there was a long queue for the incinerators.

Smoke billowed constantly from another crematorium as staff said funeral numbers had surged from about 40 to 200 a day. “We’re so busy we don’t even have time to eat,” said one. “Many have died from Covid,” added another.

It was a similar story at a third crematorium in this provincial capital of 16million people, one worker saying their slots were fully booked.

“There have been so many deaths from Covid lately,” they explained. Such stories have spread fast on social media in defiance of state censors as Covid sweeps China, the looming superpower that gave birth to the pandemic more than three years ago when a strange new virus erupted within its borders.

One man even posted a note to fellow residents of his block of flats in Shanghai warning that he was going to have to burn his own father’s infected remains since he could find no space at any crematorium in this prosperous Chinese city.

Videos show queues of hearses, morgues packed with body bags, warehouses filled with coffins — along with heartbreaking footage of hospitals struggling to cope as mainly elderly people are crammed into corridors and even treated in car parks.

This is, bear in mind, the Communist dictatorship that boasted of defeating Covid, arguing that its triumph showed the superiority of its autocratic system over weak democracies ravaged by the disease.

Officially, the government is still in control, with just one death a day from Covid at the end of last week. Yet the dictatorship is deceiving its own citizens, and the world — just as it has done since Covid-19 mysteriously first appeared in Wuhan.

The real picture is chaotic and frightening after President Xi Jinping  — panicked by protests sparked by harsh lockdowns, relentless testing, mass quarantines and heavy surveillance — ditched his draconian “Zero Covid” policies in early December.

One chilling estimate by Airfinity, a British-based health data firm, suggested last week that 9,000 people a day were dying from the disease in China. 

It warned there could be 1.7million fatalities by April, with peaks later this month and in March.

Sadly, the impact of Xi’s sudden move was instant and predictable in a country with a fragile health system, inadequate vaccination rates and reliance on home-made medicines that have proved significantly less effective than those made in the West.

Leaked figures from Beijing’s public health authorities indicate 250million people caught the disease in the first 20 days of last month alone after Covid was let loose, with no warning for either hospitals or the public.

More than eight in ten residents in Chengdu’s province of Sichuan have been infected, admit local public health officials.

Staff at one hospital, complaining they had never been so busy and had run out of Covid medicines, were seen facing long queues of largely elderly patients. 

Most of those arriving by ambulance were given oxygen to assist breathing. Medical students have protested over pay and demanded better ­protection after a 23-year-old junior doctor in Chengdu reportedly collapsed from overwork and died while suffering from Covid.

Across the country the crisis has been intensified as doctors and nurses fall sick, with more than half the staff in some hospitals going absent. Retired medics have been begged to return to the hard-pressed healthcare frontline.

Doctors complain of shortages of oxygen and ventilators. Patients are told to take in their own beds. Snatched footage shows coughing and shivering elderly patients, many with anxious relatives, in hospital corridors, waiting rooms and entry areas.

More than 10million people watched one video on social media of a man on his knees, begging for his child to be treated.

“I’m also on my knees,” replies the doctor. “Everyone is waiting, children and the elderly, you are not the only one.”

Another video from Shanghai shows chronically-ill patients outside a hospital door, lying in beds and hooked up to drips and oxygen as medics treat them near ambulances with flashing lights. 

Pharmacies have seen shelves cleared of drugs. One senior doctor admits 17.5million people may be infected in this mega-city which had some of the most gruelling lockdowns. Emergencies at his hospital have doubled due to Covid.

Another Shanghai hospital warned staff to prepare for a “tragic battle” that “we cannot escape”. It was forced to delete the social media post — but even China’s ruthless regime cannot hide its control-freak leader’s humiliation.

Xi claims he “maximised” protection of people and always “acted with openness, transparency and responsibility” — despite silencing whistleblowers early in the pandemic, hiding key data on the origins and failing to share critical details of human transmission.

The vain despot styled himself “commander in chief” of a “people’s war” on the virus — but now, just weeks into his third term in power, his credibility is being visibly shredded at home and abroad.

China’s official Covid death toll is an absurd 5,242 in a nation that contains more than one in six of the world’s population.

Health authorities have stopped sharing daily pandemic data and restricted rules for recording fatalities — although officials have finally admitted to rising deaths and drug shortages. 

Deaths “from illness” include prominent Communist cadres and celebrities, while even one patsy newspaper recorded that 13 top scientists had died in just six days.

Despite pleasure at the prospect of a return to normality, many citizens were puzzled by the dramatic policy switch after another round of increasingly loathed lockdowns failed to stop the virulent Omicron variant.

“Officials described Omicron as if it was the demon of the century just a few weeks ago but suddenly it is no worse than common flu,” said one man. 

Others were angry at such a sudden lifting of the stringent restrictions, which saw families forcibly separated and people removed from their homes into quarantine camps.

“Our lives are worthless, like ants,” moaned one critic on social media.

The move followed protests in at least a dozen cities, sparked by a deadly fire in western China.

Screams from suffocating victims were shared on social media, with claims that families were locked into high-rise apartments and rescuers unable to reach them due to pandemic control measures.

Protesters were rounded up after holding blank sheets of paper to symbolise Xi’s oppressive censorship, while some in Shanghai even dared to shout slogans demanding an end to Communist Party rule. 

The protests erupted just one month after Xi cemented his hold on power after rewriting the rules to permit a third five-year term as President, then purging rivals and promoting loyalist toadies.

In an echo of the pandemic’s early days, there is renewed concern over Chinese travellers. Many countries — including Britain — are screening arrivals amid fears over new variants created as the virus runs amok in a fresh population.

More than half the passengers on one flight to Milan last week were found to be infected, while almost two thirds of South Korea’s 380 diplomatic staff at ten offices in China have been infected over the past fortnight.

But experts suggest the situation for many other countries is different today, due to effective vaccines, the build-up of immunity in populations more exposed to Covid and the evolution of the disease into a more contagious but less deadly one.

Despite denials by Beijing officials that they are being cavalier with people’s lives, Xi’s U-turn is seen as shock treatment to revive a struggling economy as fast as possible, regardless of fatalities in their underfunded and unprepared system.

One thing is clear — the coughing patients, tragic corpses and overloaded crematoria are testament not just to the incompetence of the Chinese government. 

They prove that even the most dictatorial leaders cannot defeat a virulent disease.

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