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Chinese officials, desperate to recast the country as a global leader that has conquered the coronavirus, have been saying that its death rates are decreasing in the city of Wuhan. The problem, residents say, is that the numbers don’t add up.
Wuhan, the first epicenter of the global outbreak, began lifting its two-month lockdown over the weekend. The city in Central China restarted some subway service, reopened its borders and allowed families to reunite.
The move is part of Beijing’s choreographed campaign to mark a turning point in China’s fight against the deadly virus, which has spread to 200 countries and infected more than 732,000 people as of Monday morning. Of those, 34,686 people have died.
Despite China’s propaganda pushers being all smiles for the international community, residents told Radio Free Asia that Beijing’s claims that there were only 2,500 deaths in Wuhan is far from reality.
For more than a week, seven large funeral homes that serve Wuhan have been handing out the cremated remains of about 500 people to their families every day. When added, the figure puts the official number the Chinese government has claimed into question.
“It can’t be right … because the incinerators have been working round the clock, so how can so few people have died,” said Zhang, a Wuhan resident who only gave Radio Free Asia his last name. ”They started distributing ashes and starting interment ceremonies on Monday.”
Wuhan accounts for about 60 percent of China’s coronavirus cases, but the numbers the government has been putting out has fallen sharply in weeks, a sign, the government says, that its aggressive measures are working.
Social media users aren’t buying it and have taken the country to task, doing basic math and finding faulty figures in the government’s reporting.
The news website Caixin.com reported that 5,000 urns had been delivered by a supplier to the Hankou Funeral Home in one day. That’s double the number of deaths Xi’s officials claimed. There have also been social media posts that have claimed all seven of Wuhan’s funeral homes have handed out 3,500 urns every day.
Radio Free Asia reported that funeral homes told families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 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 Mach 23. Such an estimate would mean that 42,000 urns would be given out during that time.”
Another online estimate is based on the cremation capacity of funeral homes in Wuhan, which runs 84 furnaces with a capacity over a 24-hour period of 1,560 urns. That estimate puts the number of estimated deaths in Wuhan at 46,800.
Another resident of the Hubei province – where Wuhan is the capital – told RFA that the majority of people there believe more than 40,000 people died before and during the lockdown. That’s tens of thousands more than the government has claimed.
“Maybe the authorities are gradually releasing the real figures, intentionally or unintentionally, so that people will gradually come to accept the reality,” the resident, who only gave his last name as Mao, said.
One source close to the civil affairs bureau told RFA that the true number of deaths was a sensitive subject in the communist country and that authorities probably know the real number but are keeping it under wraps.
There have also been claims of city officials paying off families in exchange for their silence.
“There have been a lot of funerals in the past few days, and the authorities are handing out 3,000 yuan in hush money to families who get their loved ones remains laid to rest ahead of Qing Ming,” Wuhan resident Chen Yaohui said. “It’s to stop them keeing (a traditional expression of grief); nobody’s allowed to keen after [the festival] Qing Ming has passed.”
Chen told the news outlet that no one in Wuhan believes the official death toll is 2,500.
“Before the epidemic began, the city’s crematoriums typically cremated around 220 people a day,” he said, adding that during the epidemic, the government transferred cremation workers from around China to Wuhan to cremate bodies around the clock.
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