Long waits, high fees for cremation services in Beijing as COVID cases rise

Some residents in Beijing face days of waiting to cremate relatives or pay high fees to ensure timely services, funeral workers said, pointing to a rising death toll as the Chinese capital battles a strong increase in cases of COVID-19.

Workers at two different funeral homes in Beijing told Reuters over the weekend that there has been an increase in residents seeking to cremate dead relatives, leading to queues and delays.

Security guards were deployed this week at the entrance to a designated COVID crematorium in Beijing, where Reuters reporters on Saturday saw a long line of hearses and workers in hazmat suits carrying the dead to the interior Reuters was unable to establish whether the deaths were due to COVID.

The backlog has prompted some residents to seek workarounds, such as leaving hearses behind and using their own cars to take bodies to funeral homes, said a worker at the large Babaoshan Funeral Home in western Beijing.

The worker declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Another worker at the Babaoshan salon announces that customers can skip the long queue and check-in process, for a fee of 26,000 yuan ($3,730).

“For all of Beijing, quick organization of hearses, no queue for cremation,” the worker said in a plug-in for the service of the popular Douyin short video app.

The rate charged exceeds all-in-one funeral service packages advertised in the city.

For example, Beijing-based Tianshunxiang charges 19,800 yuan to cater a funeral ceremony for more than 50 people, a Mercedes-Benz hearse and cremation, while its cheapest package, which includes a hearse and cremation, costs 6,800 yuan, according to its website.

Due to the growing backlog, a Beijing banking professional said her family decided to pay a third party nearly 20,000 yuan just to transfer the body of a recently deceased family member to Babaoshan Funeral Home.

The woman, surnamed Chen, said the relative, who was in his 90s, had died of COVID late last week and that the body would have been left at home if he had not paid the fee after workers at emergency services said that the public hospital morgues were full and that they could not do it. repairs. The family still had to wait four to five days for cremation, he added.

Babaoshan Funeral Home could not immediately be reached for comment.

There was a heavy police presence at a crematorium in Beijing’s Tongzhou district on Wednesday morning, according to a Reuters witness.

The crematorium was busy with a steady flow of arrivals, a steady queue of around 40 hearses waiting to enter and a full car park.

It’s unclear how much of the surge in demand is caused by the ongoing wave of COVID-19 infections.

In addition, the cold winter in northern China, where Beijing is located, is often a cause of increased deaths among the elderly, making it even more difficult to measure the lethality of a COVID wave in the absence of transparent data .

China, which uses a narrow definition to classify COVID fatalities, reported no new COVID deaths in December. 20, compared to five the previous day.

Authorities clarified Tuesday that only deaths caused by pneumonia and respiratory failure after contracting COVID will be classified as COVID deaths.

The death toll since the pandemic began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan nearly three years ago was revised to 5,241 after one death in Beijing was removed.

Many social media users on Weibo, like China’s Twitter, and foreign experts have expressed doubts about the country’s official death rate.

The Beijing municipal government and the National Health Commission did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the apparent rise in deaths in Beijing.

© Thomson Reuters 2022.

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