Last week, I mentioned China Mobile’s drop in 7.25 million customers. I never claimed that were how many died, thouugh I suspect some misread it as saying that. Xi Limping (from one crisis to another) ordered migrant workers within the country to return home. Many use a second phone when they are not in their home towns and probably got rid of their SIM cards. But there was still the possiblity that some of those missing users were casualties of the infection.
When stories emerge, they often follow an order of appearance: word of mouth, blogs or fringe sites, less reputable media, (semi)credible mainstream media. Rumours of higher death tolls out of Wuhan have circulated for weeks on blogs like Shanghaiist (a Gothamist blog), Radio Free Asia, or third-rate “news” like The Express UK. But the corporate media can’t ignore pictures of thousands of burial urns. Even media in China usually subject to censorship has stopped pretending it doesn’t exist.
The long lines and stacks of ash urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan are spurring questions about the true scale of coronavirus casualties at the epicenter of the outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative.
The families of those who succumbed to the virus in the central Chinese city, where the disease first emerged in December, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight local funeral homes starting this week. As they did, photos circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in.
Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500 urns on both Wednesday and Thursday, according to Chinese media outlet Caixin. Another picture published by Caixin showed 3,500 urns stacked on the ground inside. It’s unclear how many of the urns had been filled.
People who answered the phone at six of the eight funeral homes in Wuhan said they either did not have data on how many urns were waiting to be collected, or were not authorized to disclose the numbers. Calls were not answered at the other two.
Some families said they had been forced to wait for several hours to pick up the ashes.
A stack of urns at a funeral home in Wuhan, the city’s official cremation rates, and reports of an overwhelmed health care system have prompted speculation that Wuhan’s real COVID-19 death toll could be in the tens of thousands—despite the Chinese government reporting 2,535 deaths from just over 50,000 coronavirus infections.
We may never know the real death toll from Wuhan (the seven mortuaries running day and night for weeks) but it’s clear the “official” numbers are as worthless as the “official” numbers from Tiananmen Square. Anywhere from 10,000 to 150,000 dead wouldn’t stretch credulity.
How much worse things can get remains to be seen.