As China relaxed the Coronavirus lockdown in Hubei province, some residents in its capital, Wuhan believe the region's death toll would be anywhere at 20 times higher than numbers reported by Beijing. The world is currently struggling to defeat the deadly Coronavirus, which has infected more than 735,000 people and killed over 33,000 people globally.
Though the Chinese government has reported around 3,000 deaths and 50,000 COVID-19 infections in Wuhan, the initial epicentre of the Novel Coronavirus outbreak, a stack of urns at a funeral home, the city's official cremation rates and reports of an overwhelmed healthcare facilities have prompted speculation that the real COVID-19 death toll in Wuhan could be in the tens of thousands.
The Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan
The outbreak was first identified in Wuhan in December 2019 before the deadly virus affected the whole world. Even though there are incidents which are enough to criticize the Chinese government for providing misleading information to keep the world in dark for months about the outbreak, China's aggressive containment methods have slowed the virus domestically, and now there are more imported cases than local transmission.
Now, Wuhan residents as well as US politicians, have accused China of underplaying their real Coronavirus death figure. Their scepticism was sparked by Chinese officials' attempts to hide the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in the early stages before it became a pandemic.
It should be mentioned that as per the data released by the Wuhan civil affairs agency, the city witnessed 56,007 cremations in the fourth quarter of 2019, a figure 1,583 higher than the fourth quarter of 2018. A UN projection has revealed that in 2019, the population in Wuhan had grown by only 1.1 percent from 2018 which indicates that the virus emergence in December caused an increase in death rates of Wuhan.
Wuhan residents question government data
A resident in Wuhan told Radio Free Asia on Friday, March 27 that the death toll in Wuhan cannot be right. He said, "The incinerators have been working round the clock, so how can so few people have died? They started distributing ashes and starting interment ceremonies on Monday."
Some Wuhan residents estimated that many funeral homes in the city are giving out 3,500 urns each day, while another calculation estimated the capacity of each funeral home which led to a conclusion that there would be more than 40,000 death cases in the area.
Another resident in the area named Mao said, "Maybe the authorities are gradually releasing the real figures, intentionally or unintentionally, so that people will gradually come to accept the reality," and added that most people in Wuhan believe that 40,000 could the actual death toll number.
Another resident claimed that there are many deceased people who had died in their houses but they were never treated for the Coronavirus. The sourced added that the funeral homes report the data on cremations directly to the local authorities twice daily which means "Each funeral home only knows how many cremations it has conducted, but not the situation at the other funeral homes."
The residents on social media also have said that seven funeral homes in the region will likely distribute 3,500 urns per day on average between March 23 and April 4, which marks Qing Ming, the traditional tomb-sweeping festival in China. By that estimate, 42,000 urns would be given out in the 12-day period.
Missing mobiles in China another indicator?
Recently it was revealed that in a tech-savvy country like China, where millions of people use mobile phones, more than 21 million cell phone accounts were cancelled while in past three months 840,000 landlines were closed. This unusual data gives an idea that probably these closed numbers belonged to the people who died due to the disease.
This week on social media photos began circulating about the urns arriving in Wuhan after families who had lost loved ones due to the Novel Coronavirus outbreak were instructed to pick up cremated ashes from one of the local funeral homes in the city. These new images have raised questions about the real death toll in China.
As per a Chinese driver, told media that trucks dropped off around 2,500 urns on Wednesday and again on Thursday this week to one of the eight funeral homes in Wuhan. Chinese media Caixin published another report which showed 3,500 urns stacked inside a facility. All this information about the number of arriving urns gives the impression that the actual death toll of COVID-29 would be drastically different from the official record.
Even US Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said in a tweet: "A single mortuary in Wuhan reportedly ordered more urns in two days than the Chinese Communist Party has reported total deaths in the whole country," and added, "I'm sure you're shocked by evidence of Chinese lies."