By BLOOMBERG / Pic By AFP
BEIJING • The long lines and stacks of ash urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan are spurring questions about the true scale of coronavirus casualties at the epicentre of the outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative.
The families of those who succumbed to the virus in the central Chinese city, where the disease first emerged in December, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight local funeral homes starting last week. As they did, photos circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in.
Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500 urns last Wednesday and Thursday, according to Chinese media outlet Caixin. Another picture published by Caixin showed 3,500 urns stacked on the ground inside. It’s unclear how many of the urns had been filled.
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 authorised 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.
According to Chinese government figures, 2,548 people in Wuhan have died of the virus.
But some in China have been sceptical 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.
Many people who died had Covid-19 symptoms, but weren’t tested and excluded from the official case tally, Caixin 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.
There were 13,856 cremations in Wuhan in the fourth quarter of 2019 (4Q19), according to Bloomberg calculations based on data from the city’s civil affairs agency. That was 2,419 lower than in 4Q18.
The families of the deceased may not be able to say a proper goodbye to their loved ones just yet. Wuhan’s government issued a statement last Thursday prohibiting individuals in the city from tomb-sweeping activities until April 30. Other provinces including Guangxi and Zhejiang have also announced similar restrictions.