Reports of busy funeral homes raise questions about China’s official coronavirus death toll

Is China covering up its real coronavirus death toll?

Some residents in Wuhan, where the virus originated, think that the city’s funeral homes have been far too busy for the official numbers to be accurate, according to multiple reports. Families have finally been able to claim the remains of their loved ones who died in Wuhan as China lifts a two-month lockdown on the city.

Wuhan residents claim China is downplaying death toll

China has officially reported that more than 3,000 people have died from the coronavirus, including some 2,500 in Wuhan. But some residents in the city believe that the real death toll may be higher than 40,000, according to one report from the nonprofit broadcasting corporation Radio Free Asia.

Wuhan is served by seven funeral homes, according to RFA. As city residents return to the city to reclaim the ashes of their loved ones, reports and photographs have circulated of thousands of unaccounted urns, prompting speculation that China is suppressing the real death toll. The Chinese media outlet Caixin published photos of a funeral home receiving shipments of 5,000 urns in the span of two days alone.

“It can’t be right … because the incinerators have been working round the clock, so how can so few people have died?” a Wuhan resident surnamed Zhang told RFA on Friday. “They started distributing ashes and starting interment ceremonies on Monday,” he said.

Funeral homes have been handing out the remains of 500 people every day, according to Radio Free Asia. Internet sleuths have calculated a death toll of 46,800, assuming that Wuhan’s crematories are working constantly and at full capacity, and another estimate places the number at 42,000. Some residents say that nobody in Wuhan believes the official tallies are accurate, as long lines form outside of funeral homes for families to collect remains.

“Maybe the authorities are gradually releasing the real figures, intentionally or unintentionally, so that people will gradually come to accept the reality,” a resident, who only gave his last name as Mao, said.

China to start counting asymptomatic cases

Some Wuhan residents say that China is bribing residents to keep quiet with so-called “funeral allowances.” Cover-up or not, China admitted this week that it had not been counting those infected with coronavirus who didn’t show symptoms, the Wall Street Journal reports.

China said that 1,500 people had not been included in its official tally because they did not display symptoms. The concession is significant, as China wages a global charm offensive to deflect responsibility for the pandemic and blame the United States. Many Western media outlets are rather credulously repeating China’s claims to have suppressed the virus, as the United States appears to have overtaken China as the country with the most reported infections.

The Trump administration accused China of covering up the initial outbreak, leaving the world vulnerable to the deadly virus. China has in turn sought to shift blame to the United States, floating conspiracy theories that COVID-19 was created by the U.S. military, while taking advantage of hard-hit countries like Italy to boost its public image by sending doctors and shipments of medical supplies.

By official tallies, America passed China’s death toll on Tuesday, with more than 3,500 deaths in about a month — a stunning surge. According to Johns Hopkins University’s tallies, COVID-19 has infected more than 800,000 people worldwide and killed nearly 41,000.

Western media dupes have repeatedly pointed to China as an example of how to manage the virus — but have they really overcome it?

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