Long waits to pick up urns in Wuhan raise questions about official death toll

by WorldTribune Staff, March 27, 2020

Thousands of urns have reportedly been delivered to funeral homes in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. Photos and information circulating on Chinese social media indicate there are long lines of people picking up cremated ashes.

The reports call into question the Chinese communist government’s official figures of 2,535 people in Wuhan who have died of the virus, Bloomberg reported on Friday.

Trucks shipped in about 2,500 urns on both Wednesday and Thursday to the Wuhan funeral homes, according to Chinese media outlet Caixin. A photo published by Caixin showed 3,500 urns stacked on the ground inside. It’s unclear how many of the urns had been filled.

The report noted that people who answered the phone at six of the eight funeral homes in Wuhan said they either did not have data on how many urns were waiting to be collected, or were not authorized to disclose the numbers. Calls were not answered at the other two.

Some families said they had been forced to wait for several hours to pick up the ashes.

Two locals in Wuhan who have lost family members to the virus said online that they were informed they had to be accompanied by their employers or officials from neighborhood committees when picking up the urns, likely as a measure against public gatherings.

“I was told by district government to wait until further notice on when I can pick up my father’s ashes,” one Wuhan resident using the name “Xue Zai Shou Zhong,” meaning “snow in hand,” posted on Weibo. “There is a staggered arrangement for urn collecting.”

Another Weibo user using the handle Adagier said she lost her husband to the coronavirus and had since been contacted by police warning her not to be too emotional — and to stop posting online.

“I have only one demand,” she wrote. “I want to give my husband a proper burial as soon as possible.”

China had reported that its tally of new cases in Wuhan had hit zero and the lockdown in place on the city of 11 million people since January would be lifted.

“But some in China have been skeptical of the accuracy of the official tally, particularly given Wuhan’s overwhelmed medical system, authorities’ attempts to cover up the outbreak in its initial stages, and multiple revisions to the way official cases are counted. Residents on social media have demanded disciplinary action against top Wuhan officials,” the Bloomberg report said.

Many people who died had symptoms of the virus, but weren’t tested and wre excluded from the official case tally, the Caixin report said. There were also patients who died of other diseases due to a lack of proper treatment when hospitals were overwhelmed dealing with those who had the coronavirus, the report said.

There were 56,007 cremations in Wuhan in the fourth quarter of 2019, according to data from the city’s civil affairs agency. The number of cremations was 1,583 higher than those in the fourth quarter of 2018 and 2,231 higher than the fourth quarter of 2017.

Wuhan’s government issued a statement on Thursday prohibiting individuals in the city from tomb-sweeping activities until April 30, meaning they would not be able to observe the traditional April 4 Ching Ming Festival, or tomb sweeping holiday. Other provinces including Guangxi and Zhejiang have also announced similar restrictions, the Bloomberg report noted.

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