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Shipments of urns in Wuhan raise questions over China's coronavirus death toll


ANI Asia
Months after the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan city of central China, families of those deceased, who contracted the contagious infection, stood in long queues at funeral homes demanding to receive the cremated ashes of their loved ones.
Now this has spurred questions about the actual tally of COVID-19 related casualties in Wuhan, in a renewed pressure on the Chinese government that is already struggling to control its containment narrative of the pandemic spread.
Chinese media outlet Caixin showed how trucks carrying 2,500 urns with the ashes of the deceased COVID-19 cases were being shipped in a funeral home last week. Another picture published revealed how 3,500 urns were stacked within these funeral homes. It is therefore unclear how many urns have been filled in.
According to media reports, workers at several funeral parlors declined to provide any details as to how many urns were waiting to be collected, saying they either did not know or were not authorised to share the number.
Some families said they had been forced to wait for several hours to pick up the ashes. The photos circulated as mass deaths from the virus spiked in cities across the west, including Milan, Madrid and New York, where hospitals were erecting tents to handle the overflow as global infections soar past 500,000, with 24,000 dead.
According to Chinese government figures, 2,535 people in Wuhan have died of the virus. The announcement that a lockdown in place since January would be lifted came after the country said its tally of new cases had hit zero and stepped up diplomatic outreach to other countries hard hit by the virus, sending some of them medical supplies.
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.
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 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.
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.
COVID-19 is affecting 199 countries and territories around the world. Over 664,000 coronavirus cases have been registered globally out of which 30,890 have succumbed to the infection.

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First Published: Mar 29 2020 | 1:36 PM IST

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