Corona Virus: The recovery of the funeral coffin industry in light of the increase in the number of deaths due to Covid in China

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  • Stephen McDonnell
  • BBC

4 hours ago

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Demand for funeral coffins has soared in some rural areas of China

Funeral coffin makers in northern China’s Shanxi Province are at work. Skilled craftsmen carving elaborate motifs on freshly cut wood say they have had no time in the past months to stop working.

A customer from the village told us that stocks of burial coffins sometimes run out. He added, laughing with the kind of sarcasm you notice in the area, that in the past, workers in the funeral industry “earned a small fortune.”

There is much debate about the actual number of deaths from Covid infection in China, after the virus spread to major cities.

And the prominent epidemiologist, Wu Zu Niu, says that about 80 percent of the country’s population, more than a billion people, have been infected since China last December canceled the restrictions that were imposed to limit the spread of the pandemic.

At the end of last week, China announced that it had recorded 13,000 deaths due to infection with Covid in less than a week, in addition to counting 60,000 deaths since December.

However, these deaths are recorded in hospitals, while in rural areas there are only a few medical facilities, and those who die at home are often not counted.

There is still no official estimate of the number of deaths in the villages, but the BBC has monitored evidence of a significant increase in the number of deaths.

We went to a crematorium and the staff were also busy with their work, and the mourners were dressed in white and walking with a funeral casket to collect the remains of a family member.

In another village, we saw a man and a woman carrying large bird shapes made of tissue paper on a flatbed truck, and the woman said: “They are cranes. (The deceased) is riding cranes to the other world.”

Everyone we interviewed in this area of ​​Shanxi, who is connected to the funeral industry, told us similar stories of an increase in the death toll, all blaming the coronavirus.

“Some patients are really very weak, they catch Covid, and their aging bodies can’t handle it,” said one man, as he continued to load a truck.

We followed the truck to where its shipment was delivered and met Wang Biwei, whose sister-in-law had died.

The deceased, a mother of two in her fifties, had suffered from severe diabetes for years and then contracted the coronavirus.

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Wang Peiwei said that although the cost of the funeral arrangements is high, they will pay extra money in honor of the deceased.

“After contracting Covid, she had a high fever, and her organs began to stop functioning, and her immune system was not strong enough to resist,” Wang said.

The family’s yard was decorated with funeral arrangements, and Wang told us there were still more pictures, flowers, and the like.

Wang, who was standing in front of a tent in the courtyard where the body of the deceased was covered, said that on the day of the funeral, 16 people will carry her coffin for burial according to tradition.

He added that although the cost of funeral arrangements had skyrocketed due to the number of Covid deaths, they would pay extra money in honor of it.

He said: “She was a great personality, we must hold a great funeral for her, the best we can do.”

Millions of young people return to their hometowns, at this time every year, to celebrate the Lunar New Year, the most important Chinese celebration.

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The villages they are returning to now are where most of the elderly live, who are the most vulnerable group to contracting the Covid virus.

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There is great concern that this mass return, to celebrate the Spring Festival this year, will lead to the spread of the Corona virus in additional remote areas, to the extent of recording infections that lead to death.

The government had warned urban residents not to return to their cities this year if their elderly relatives did not contract the virus.

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Millions of people traveled back to their hometowns from major cities

Dong Yongming, a doctor who runs a clinic in a small village, believes about 80 percent of the population there has already contracted COVID-19.

“All the villagers come to us when they are sick. We are the only clinic here,” he said.

He added that most of those who died there suffered from underlying diseases.

Talking about their medicine distribution when COVID hit the village, Dong said they don’t sell medicine to people beyond their needs.

“For example, I only give four ibuprofen tablets per person. They don’t need two. It would be a waste.”

Despite this, he said he believes the worst of the Covid wave has already passed: “We didn’t have any patients in the past days.”

Those who die in this area are buried in the fields, and farmers continue to grow their crops and raise their livestock around the mounds of their ancestors’ resting places.

Driving along the road, we noticed fresh dirt mounds, many with red flags. A farmer grazing goats there confirmed that they were fresh graves.

“Families bury the elderly here after their death. There are many of them,” he said.

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

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Fresh graves dot the fields

“One day someone would die, and then the next someone would die. It’s been nonstop for the past month,” he added.

The people in the countryside here adopt a philosophy about life and death. A farmer said people would still celebrate the New Year as always.

“My son and my daughter-in-law will be back soon,” he added.

I asked him if the locals were concerned that the return of family members would lead to an increase in the number of infections.

He said, “No need to worry. No need to be afraid. You will get infected even if you hide. Most of us are already infected and we are fine.”

The farmer and others hope that the deadliest wave of Covid is already over, and that efforts will be made, at least for the time being, with the living rather than burying the dead.

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