A media report from a funeral home in the eastern suburbs of Beijing, China, on December 16 revealed the crisis there. At the gate, there were family cars lined up, waiting for their turn to have their family member cremated. Funeral home staff said that the number of confirmed deaths is very high, and most are elderly. As a result, the staff is afraid to go to the deceased’s home to receive the bodies fearing infection with COVID.

Currently, the morgue’s cold storage capacity in funeral homes in the eastern suburbs of Beijing is overloaded, and bodies may face preservation problems.

After China eased the pandemic prevention policy, the number of confirmed COVID cases in many provinces continued to increase. With the double impact of low temperatures in winter, the number of patients continued to skyrocket, and the death rate also began to rise. In particular, Beijing has a population of more than 21 million people, and the pandemic is severe. Funeral homes and crematoriums have started to be overwhelmed, making it difficult to make an appointment.

There are two situations at the funeral home. One is that if the death is not due to COVID, family members can hold a farewell ceremony. In the other case, if the deceased was infected with COVID, family members must contact the hospital or funeral home within two hours, not have a farewell ceremony, and cremate the body within 24 hours. 

At the scene, there were arguments because the cremation time had to be booked in advance, and many families had to line up for a long time.

ETtoday’s reporter saw simple coffins being pushed to the crematorium one after another, white smoke continuously emanating from eight crematoriums in the funeral home. A person working in the funeral industry at the scene said that the crematoriums have been operating for 24 hours since the night of December 15, and it is estimated that the situation is similar today.

The director of the funeral home said that the funeral home’s morgue cold storage had been full since December 15. The reporter asked what happens when the cold storage is full, and the funeral director said there was no choice but to put them on the ground.”

He added: “Babaoshan Funeral Home can’t even make an appointment in advance and can’t make an appointment within eight days. Recently, too many people have died in Beijing from COVID, especially after the pandemic prevention policies were eased; most of the dead were old people.”

The pandemic spread so quickly, funeral staff said. On December 15, they received a phone call from friends expressing their family members had died. They were worried that the body would be damaged and looked forward to cremating it soon. But the funeral home staff did not dare to help, even with protective suits, for fear of being infected.

The pandemic in Beijing is spreading quickly. Even with a relatively small viral load, it is still a fatal threat to the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. Reporters at the scene saw many family members holding photos of the deceased, most of whom were elderly.

Some people wear mourning clothes but cannot hold a funeral and can only watch the remains of their family members being taken to the crematorium without having time to say goodbye. According to the regulations of the National Medical and Health Commission of China, health authorities are responsible for promptly issuing medical death certificates to the deceased infected with COVID. They then notify the funeral home to receive the dead and do well in pandemic prevention work such as sterilizing remains. The funeral home is responsible for collecting and transporting the remains and setting up a special channel to serve temporary funerals. In particular, the crematoriums must do a good job cremating the remains according to the operating procedures.

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