Hospitals and crematoriums are overwhelmed throughout China as COVID-19 cases skyrocket after restrictions drop.
After China’s zero-COVID policy garnered heavy criticism, Chinese authorities announced an easing of restrictions on Dec. 7, ending years of lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines. Negative tests or health codes are no longer required for travel within the country or when visiting facilities and venues. Further, people will be allowed to quarantine at home.
Within days of the change, cities throughout China faced a rapid wave of infections, leaving hospitals and pharmacies short on supplies. Beijing and both Shanghai faced a rise of COVID patients, forcing schools to move classes online.
Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and chief of COVID Task Force at the New England Complex Systems Institute, shared a thread on Twitter highlighting the severity of China’s outbreak:
In Chongqing, a city with a population of 30 million, crematoriums have quickly run out of space as authorities encouraged those with mild COVID symptoms to continue going to work, AFP reports.
“We are very busy, there is no more cold storage space for the bodies,” an unnamed staffer reported. “We are not sure [if it’s related to COVID], you need to ask the leaders in charge.”
Crematoriums in the Zengcheng district of Guangzhou gave similar reports, with one employee stating that they were cremating over 30 bodies a day.
“We have bodies assigned to us from other districts,” the employee shared.
Official reports counted two deaths on Monday, which rose to five total deaths on Tuesday, increasing skepticism towards officials. Unlike the World Health Organization’s counting method, China’s figures only include deaths from respiratory illnesses, resulting in lower figures.
Beijing health officials have clarified they will continue to use respiratory illness as the counting method for COVID death statistics. However, authorities have admitted the impossibility of tracking those who have been infected with COVID due to the end of mandatory testing.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department identified China’s COVID surge as an international concern.
“We know that any time the virus is spreading, that it is in the wild, that it has the potential to mutate and to pose a threat to people everywhere,” spokesman Ned Price stated. “The toll of the virus is of concern to the rest of the world given the size of China’s GDP, given the size of China’s economy.”