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Videos: Chinese citizens reportedly burn bodies in the streets amid COVID spike

Xi Jinping speaks to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 28, 2017. (Ma Zhancheng/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)
January 25, 2023

Videos have emerged purporting to show Chinese citizens burning bodies out on the streets of their cities as a spike in Covid-19 deaths have flooded funeral homes, creating a backlog.

Jennifer Zeng, a Chinese-born human rights activitist and critic of the Chinese government, tweeted one such video of what appeared to be a burning casket sitting next to a bicycle and pedestrian path. 

“I’ve seen quite a few similar videos, but haven’t posted any until now,” Zeng tweeted. “Given what we learned from other sources about how difficult & expensive to cremate a body in a #crematorium in #CCPChina, I’m not surprised if someone in the countryside chose to do this. #ChinaCovidDeaths.”

“#CHINA: The #COVID outbreak is reportedly forcing people to burn the bodies of their families members on the streets as a result of emergency services and crematoriums’ inability to accommodate the mass numbers of deceased. Heartbreaking,” another Twitter user tweeted, with a video of a similar fire burning near a series of high-rise apartments.

It remains difficult to confirm exact numbers of Covid-19 deaths in China, three years after the initial outbreak from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

In December, Chinese authorities redefined how they count Covid-19 deaths, now only counting those with confirmed virus infections, Bloomberg reported. Chinese authorities could also deem people to have died of a heart attack or another disease, and their deaths would not be counted as Covid-19 deaths, even if they had been infected at the time that they died.

In total, China has recorded about 2 million Covid-19 cases in the three years since the start of the pandemic and just 5,273 deaths; an approximate case fatality rate of .26 percent. By comparison, the whole world has recorded about 669 million Covid-19 cases and about 6.7 million deaths, or a case fatality rate of about 1 percent.

Early on in January, Bloomberg reported from within China that a public notice for the city of Longhua had announced that its crematorium had received more than 500 bodies in one day. Families were reportedly waiting for hours in line to have their loved ones cremated, and after the wait, they were each given about five to 10 minutes to mourn before they had to leave to make room for the next family.

“The whole system is paralyzed right now,” a Longhua funeral home employee reportedly told Bloomberg.

A screenshot of an alleged Chinese social media post on Dec. 26, 2022, has an individual claiming that he was looking for a chance to have his deceased father cremated, but that all cremation slots were full until after the new year.

“The funeral services hotline told me that all cremation slots are full until after the new year,” the alleged post read. “Since national law doesn’t allow patients who die of infectious diseases to be stored at home, I shall find an empty patch in our neighborhood to cremate my father. If you have problems with this, please call the police.”

A research organization called Airfinity believes China’s true Covid-19 numbers to be much higher than the country is reporting. The predictive health analytics firm predicted China could actually have had 36,000 deaths per day over the Chinese Lunar New Year weekend.