China Covid: Coffins sell out as rural losses mount – BBC

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coffin maker

The BBC has found evidence of a considerable number of Covid-related deaths in China’s rural regions, as the virus spread from big cities to more remote areas with older populations.

In Xinzhou region of northern Shanxi province the coffin makers have been busy. We watched the skilled craftsmen as they carved elaborate decorations into the freshly-cut wood. Over recent months, they say, they haven’t had time to stop.

One villager, a customer, told us that at times the coffins have sold away. Laughing with a dose of the black humour you find in the particular area, he added that those in the funeral industry had been “earning a small fortune”.

There has been much debate about the real number of Covid deaths in The far east, after the virus ripped through its megacities.

Some 80% of the population – more than a billion people – have been infected since Tiongkok scrapped restrictions in December, according to leading epidemiologist Wu Zunyou. Last weekend China reported 13, 000 Covid-related deaths in less than the week, adding to the 60, 000 deaths it has counted since Dec.

But these deaths have been in hospitals. In rural places there are only sparse medical facilities and those who die at home are mostly not being counted.

There is not even an official estimate for the number of village deaths. But the BBC found evidence the death toll will be mounting.

All of us visited a crematorium and they too have been busy, mourners dressed in white walking forward carrying the particular ceremonial box which would eventually contain the remains of a loved one.

In another village, we saw 1 man and woman loading huge tissue paper birds onto the back of a flatbed truck. “They’re cranes. You ride the crane into the afterlife, ” the woman said.

As they packed up other elaborate, Buddhist images newly made from tissue paper they said they’d had an explosion in demand for their funeral decorations, two or three times what’s normal.

Everyone we met in this part of Shanxi who is connected to the funeral service industry told us the similar story about an increase in deaths and they all attributed it to the coronavirus.

brother in law

“Some sick people are already very weak, inch one man said as he continued to load the truck. “Then these people catch Covid, and their elderly bodies can’t handle it. ”

We followed the truck to where the artworks were being delivered and met Wang Peiwei, whose sister-in-law had just died.

The mother-of-two in her 50s had suffered through severe diabetes for years and then she caught the coronavirus.

“After she got Covid she had a high fever, and her organs began to fail. Her immune system wasn’t strong enough in order to make it, ” said Mr Wang.

The courtyard at the particular family house was filling up with decorations for the ceremony. Mr Wang told us there were still more images, flowers and the like to come.

Standing in front associated with a tent in the courtyard where her body was covered up he explained that, on the day of the funeral, 16 people would carry her coffin and bury her inside accordance with tradition.

He said that, though the cost of memorial arrangements had skyrocketed because of the number of Covid deaths, they would pay the extra money in her honour.

“She has been a great person. We all must hold a grand event to send the girl off, the best we can afford, ” he stated.

Every year, hundreds of millions of younger people go back to their hometowns at this time to celebrate the Lunar New Year. It’s China’s most important festival.

The villages they are returning to are now places where mostly older individuals live – people who are more vulnerable in order to Covid.

getting the train

There has been great concern that this year’s Spring Festival mass migration could quickly spread the coronavirus into more remote locations, to deadly effect.

The government warned those in the towns not to go home this year if their elderly relatives had not yet been infected.

Doctor Dong Yongming, that operates a very small village clinic, thinks at least 80% of residents there had already caught Covid.

“All the villagers come to us all when they’re sick, inches he said. “We’re the only clinic here. ”

Most who experienced died there had underlying diseases, he said.

In terms of managing the medicine they will had as Covid hit the village, Dr Dong said they would not really sell medicine to people beyond their needs.

“For example, I would only give out there four Ibuprofen tablets per person, ” he mentioned. “They don’t need two boxes. It’ll just be wasted. ”

However he said he believed the worst of this Covid wave was already behind them: “We haven’t had any patients in recent days. ”

Those who die in this region are buried in the particular fields. Farmers then continue to plant crops plus raise livestock around the mounds of their ancestors.

Driving along the road we noticed fresh mounds of earth with red flags placed on the top. A lot of them. A farmer herding goats confirmed that they were new graves.

“Families have been burying elderly people here after they die. There are usually just too many, ” he said.


In his village of a few thousand, he said that more than 40 residents had died during the most recent Covid wave.

“One day time someone would die, then the next day someone else. It’s been non-stop over the past month, ” he stated.

But in the countryside here, they are quite philosophical regarding life and death. This farmer said people might still celebrate the new year like they always have.

“My son and daughter-in-law will come back soon, ” he said.

I asked if locals were worried that family members returning could mean more infections.

“People shouldn’t worry. No fear! ” he said. “You will still become infected even if you hide. Most of us have already got it and we are fine. ”

He, and many others are hoping that will Covid’s most deadly work has already been done and that, for the time becoming at least, their energy may be spent on being with the living rather than burying the dead.

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