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The low official death tally runs counter to what’s been seen across the worldChina appears to be seeing an increase in Covid deaths across a swath of the country that aren’t being reported in government figures, according to social media posts, adding to speculation that officials are masking the full impact of their abrupt shift away from Covid Zero.People from Hebei in the north to Guangdong in the south have flocked to China’s Twitter-style Weibo platform to post about longer-than-normal queues at funeral homes, and crematoriums handling a growing number of bodies. The reports indicate the wave of fatalities that, until now, has been centered in the capital of Beijing – which has officially had seven deaths in recent days despite an explosion in infections – is quietly rippling through less prominent parts of the country.A man who said he worked at a crematorium in Hebei wrote in a Weibo post, which has since been deleted, that his facility is performing as many as 22 cremations a day from about four-to-five before December. Screenshots of the original post, which can’t be verified by Bloomberg News, continue to circulate across Chinese social media. The poster didn’t respond to a request for comment. A screenshot allegedly showing the rising number of obituaries published by a university to commemorate staff who have recently died has also been widely shared. A Weibo poster in Guangdong said the crematorium he went to had staff working overtime to deal with a spate of deaths among the elderly, while a man in Henan said a funeral parlor he attended was so overwhelmed that bodies were being put in corridors. In Chongqing, which hasn’t officially declared a Covid death since late-November, a woman said her grandfather died over the weekend and she faced a long wait for a death certificate. How China can have so few fatalities – less than 20 since the first tentative steps toward easing Covid controls in late-November – and why they’re concentrated in Beijing have also become frequently asked questions across social media platforms.The skepticism has a solid foundation. The low official death tally runs counter to what’s been seen across the world, and even in places like Shanghai and Hong Kong, where omicron’s arrival sparked a surge in infections followed swiftly by a wave of fatalities. Smoke rises from a crematorium at Dongjiao Funeral Parlor, reportedly designated to handle Covid fatalities, in Beijing, on Dec. 19. But it’s been particularly notable given China spent little time putting in place mitigation measures to prepare for this month’s dismantling of Covid Zero: the population, especially the elderly, are under-vaccinated, and officials have only recently vowed to add more hospital beds. The real number of deaths may also have been masked by a change in how to define a Covid fatality. Caixin reported that China had narrowed the guidelines, issuing new guidance this month that notes that some patients who were Covid-positive may have died from underlying illness, and medical facilities have 24 hours to ascertain a person’s cause of death. Previously, anyone who died while Covid-positive was considered a Covid death.Fatalities are just one data point that’s evoked suspicion, with the country also abandoning efforts to count all infections after scrapping frequent PCR testing for residents. It’s in China’s interest to downplay the severity of the situation. Its vast propaganda apparatus has shifted from trumpeting President Xi Jinping’s flagship Covid Zero approach and upbraiding other nations who had shifted to living with the virus, to downplaying its risks and likening Covid to a cold. China has maintained a tight grip on information throughout the pandemic, from the earliest days in Wuhan to sporadic updates on vaccination progress and closely controlled press conferences. That makes the snapshots on social media an important way to gauge the reality of the country’s worst ever Covid outbreak.Featured Video Of The Day60% Of China Likely To Get Covid, Millions May Die: Top Epidemiologist

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