Amid Virus Outbreak, Funeral Home Officials in Wuhan Reveal Sharp Increase in Cremations

Cathy He

A senior official at a crematorium in the coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan, China, says their intake has skyrocketed in recent weeks, suggesting that more people are dying of the disease than officially reported.

Beginning around Jan. 22, the number of dead bodies received by the government-operated funeral home has drastically increased—peaking at 127 bodies on Feb. 3, the official said, adding that he’s been seeing about four to five times the usual workload.

The official made the revelations during a Feb. 4 phone call by an undercover reporter for the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times, who posed as a member of the central government task force overseeing the outbreak response. This publication is withholding the name of the official and funeral home to protect his identity.

The funeral home services eight of the government-designated hospitals for treating the virus, according to the official.

Four other Wuhan funeral homes that service such hospitals have also reported increases in their intake, based on undercover calls and revelations from crematorium workers.

All five facilities are among seven government-run funeral parlors with crematoriums in Wuhan. Three are in the downtown area, while the other four service suburban areas, according to the city’s Civil Affairs Bureau.

Numbers on the Rise

The official’s claim about an increase in cremations is similar to claims made by staff at several other Wuhan funeral homes.
An employee at Caidian Funeral Home located in a Wuhan suburb recently told The Epoch Times that they need at least 100 body bags every day.

The man, who identified himself as Mr. Yun, said that every funeral home in the city was facing the same situation.

A staff member at another Wuhan funeral parlor, who declined to be named, told The Epoch Times that beginning Jan. 28, around 100 workers at his facility have been working around the clock without food breaks. He said they would use up to 35 body bags each day.

In another undercover phone call to a senior official at another funeral home in Wuhan, the official said that the facility was cremating around 30 bodies every day.

Their claims add to mounting evidence that the communist regime is underreporting the number of infections and deaths from the illness.

On Feb. 1, Chinese health authorities announced mandatory cremation for people who died from the coronavirus.

The official at the first-mentioned funeral home said that about 60 percent of the bodies come from private homes, while 38 percent are transported from hospitals. Most of the corpses coming from homes are people who died from the new coronavirus, he said.

People who died at home from the virus are unlikely to have been officially diagnosed with the illness—given that diagnoses are issued at hospitals—and therefore do not count toward the official death toll.

Of the 127 bodies received by the crematorium on Feb. 3, eight were diagnosed with the virus, while 48 were suspected of having the illness, based on their death certificates, the official said. It is unclear what was specified as the cause of death for the remaining 71 bodies.

In five weeks, since the first official report of the disease, official figures of the outbreak have risen sharply to nearly 40,000 infections and more than 800 deaths in China. However, the actual number of cases is likely to be far greater.

Previous reporting by The Epoch Times has shown that the number of infections is being underreported due to several factors: the shortage of testing kits at hospitals, meaning the number of confirmed cases are capped; hospitals being at overcapacity, meaning many patients are turned away and unable to be diagnosed or treated; and a culture of secrecy within the Chinese Communist Party that restricts the free flow of any information during crises that might undermine its authoritarian rule.

Patients who are suspected of contracting the illness but unable to receive the accredited diagnosis are not counted toward the official figures. Likewise, suspected patients who later pass away are not part of the official death toll.

Meanwhile, medical experts have estimated that the number of infections in Wuhan alone could be many times higher than the reported number. A Jan. 31 study published in the medical journal The Lancet estimated that more than 75,000 could have been infected in the city by Jan. 25.

Stretched to the Limit

The senior official at the first-mentioned funeral home said his staff of around 110 people has been stretched to the limit, working round the clock to transport bodies from hospitals and private homes and cremate them.

“We transport the bodies 24 hours a day,” he said. “Now every single male employee is involved [in this task]. As long as they can still move, they will work.”

The facility’s 11 furnaces are cremating bodies nonstop every day, he said.

The official said that at this rate, he would need 40 to 50 additional staff to keep up with the workload, adding that current staff have not taken a day off since Lunar New Year’s Eve on Jan. 25.

“I’m on the brink of collapse,” the official said.

“We are exhausted and can’t get any rest,” he added. “Now I would feel grateful if I can sleep for two or three hours a day.”

The official added that he’s been in touch with the Hankou Funeral Home, whose “workload is even heavier than mine.”

That facility, located in downtown Wuhan, is officially designated by authorities to cremate bodies of coronavirus victims from downtown Wuhan hospitals.

An undercover phone call by the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times to the Hankou Funeral Home confirmed that its crematorium was using 20 furnaces to cremate bodies 24 hours a day.

Cathy He is the politics editor at the Washington D.C. bureau. She was previously an editor for U.S.-China and a reporter covering U.S.-China relations.
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