Multiple reports analyzing the number of urns carrying remains of the dead in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the current coronavirus pandemic originated, distributed this weekend suggests that the Communist Party may be downplaying the true number of dead by at least an order of magnitude.
China had kept most of Wuhan quarantined for months, welding families shut into their homes and apartments to keep them from contaminating more people. While medical experts have traced the first case of Chinese coronavirus back to Wuhan in November 2019, dictator Xi Jinping did not visit the city of 11 million people until the week of March 10, shortly before the Chinese Communist Party began allowing businesses to reopen and claiming that doctors were not diagnosing any more coronavirus cases in the city. With the city recent reopened, the government finally began allowing families to go to funeral homes and pick up the ashes of their relatives who died of coronavirus infection last week.
Citing funeral home directors and eyewitnesses, multiple reports suggest that the number of urns collected was far larger than that possible if Beijing had accurately reported the number of cases. The Epoch Times, an anti-communist newspaper that has documented skepticism of official government figures from within Wuhan since the onset of the pandemic, estimated over 32,000 deaths attributable to Chinese coronavirus in Wuhan in a report Sunday. The newspaper noted that the urns collected this weekend had amassed between January 23, when the lockdown began, to March 23, when families were first allowed to begin retrieving them.
Citing sources in various Wuhan funeral homes and reports from other outlets such as the independent Chinese media outlet Caixin, the Epoch Times concluded that Wuhan’s seven funeral homes possessed 40,000 urns, each urn containing the remains of one person, during the lockdown, suggesting that 40,000 people died in the city during that time. Discounting the average number of deaths a day in Wuhan in 2018, the latest year for which public statistics are available, the newspaper concluded that at least 32,140 people have died of Chinese coronavirus in Wuhan.
These numbers echoed the warning of funeral directors speaking to the Epoch Times in February, concerned that they did not have the capacity to handle the sheer number of bodies hospitals were sending them. A report in the publication that month found that each Wuhan crematorium was handling as much as five times the normal intake of bodies per day.
Radio Free Asia (RFA), an American human rights publication, published an even larger number on Thursday:
Some social media posts have estimated that all seven funeral homes in Wuhan are handing out 3,500 urns every day in total.
Funeral homes have informed families that they will try to complete cremations before the traditional grave-tending festival of Qing Ming on April 5, which would indicate a 12-day process beginning on March 23.
Such an estimate would mean that 42,000 urns would be given out during that time.
Another popular estimate is based on the cremation capacity of the funeral homes, which run a total of 84 furnaces with a capacity over 24 hours of 1,560 urns city-wide, assuming that one cremation takes one hour.
This calculation results in an estimated 46,800 deaths.
China has documented 82,198 cases nationwide, 67,801 cases in Hubei province generally. China claims 3,308 people have died since the outbreak began in Wuhan, the overwhelming majority – 3,186 people – in Hubei province.
The official global death toll currently stands at 35,019, or about 11,000 fewer people than RFA’s estimate of the number of dead in one Chinese city alone. Beijing claims to have lost fewer people than Spain or Italy.
The current global number of people confirmed to be infected by the Chinese coronavirus – not counting the “mild” cases in Wuhan, of course – stands at 737,929 worldwide.
Both RFA and the Epoch Times cited locals in Wuhan who said that many of the dead never made it to a hospital. The Chinese government openly admitted that it had stopped counting “mild” cases of Chinese coronavirus in its official tallies in February, potentially leaving tens of thousands of people with confirmed coronavirus cases out of the numbers that global public health authorities are using to study just how contagious and deadly the virus us. Beijing also never defined what “mild” means, potentially leaving that interpretation up to Communist Party politicians rather than healthcare professionals.
Funeral home directors also revealed, anonymously, that the number of death certificates telling them the bodies they received were of people who died of “pneumonia” – a common complication in Chinese coronavirus victims, though not one unique to the virus – had begun skyrocketing, making them suspect that these bodies were incorrectly marked to ensure they did not count towards Beijing’s coronavirus death toll.
The Communist Party is working to mitigate embarrassment in the event of an explosion of new cases in Wuhan as businesses and public transport reopens by claiming that there is potential for a “second wave” of infections triggered by foreigners coming to China from countries with a high number of Chinese coronavirus cases. Locals have insisted for weeks, however, that the first wave never abated. The Epoch Times published video Sunday of Wuhan residents collapsing on the group, clearly infirm, suggesting these individuals are suffering from an infection and not receiving care. Their presence in public exposes others to infection, as scientists believe water droplets in the air breathed out by infected people can spread to others near them.