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China withholds key indicator of Covid death toll as it fails to release cremation data | China

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China has dropped the number of cremations held last winter from a quarterly report, withholding a key indicator of the pandemic death toll during the country’s largest Covid wave.

The Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs released summary statistics on marriage and social welfare for the fourth quarter of 2022 last Friday, after months of unexplained delays, which had prompted speculation that the country was not able to track the relevant data.

Missing from the quarterly report was the number of cremations held across the country – a figure the ministry has made public since 2007.

On a provincial level, more than a dozen regions, including Jiangsu and Zhejiang, did not include the figure in their recent reports, while some have yet to release any data at all, South China Morning Post reported on Thursday.

The country of 1.4 billion people recorded over 4 million cremations during the third quarter of 2022. A quarterly or year-on-year comparison could be used to gauge the number of deaths associated with Covid as China abruptly ended its zero-Covid policy last winter.

The sudden pivot from its so-called zero-Covid approach resulted in a massive surge that overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes in December last year. Satellite images showed long queues outside funeral homes, while some crematoriums worked around the clock to keep up with the influx of bodies.

While the Chinese government stopped announcing the daily tally of Covid cases and deaths during the surge, the scenes offered a hint to the severity of the outbreak and how China mishandled its Covid reopening.

Officially, China put the total death toll from mid December to early February at 83,150.

But the country has been accused of masking the true impact of the pandemic and underreporting fatalities by narrowing the definition of Covid deaths. Doctors have also reported being pressured over how they attribute deaths due to Covid, counting only those that died from pneumonia and respiratory failure, but not other underlying conditions.

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong estimated in December that nearly a million people in China could die from Covid as the country rapidly abandoned pandemic restrictions.

Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in December that the country would calculate and release data on excess mortality – the number of total deaths during an observed period in comparison to the historical baseline, but the information has not so far been made public yet.


China has dropped the number of cremations held last winter from a quarterly report, withholding a key indicator of the pandemic death toll during the country’s largest Covid wave.

The Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs released summary statistics on marriage and social welfare for the fourth quarter of 2022 last Friday, after months of unexplained delays, which had prompted speculation that the country was not able to track the relevant data.

Missing from the quarterly report was the number of cremations held across the country – a figure the ministry has made public since 2007.

On a provincial level, more than a dozen regions, including Jiangsu and Zhejiang, did not include the figure in their recent reports, while some have yet to release any data at all, South China Morning Post reported on Thursday.

The country of 1.4 billion people recorded over 4 million cremations during the third quarter of 2022. A quarterly or year-on-year comparison could be used to gauge the number of deaths associated with Covid as China abruptly ended its zero-Covid policy last winter.

The sudden pivot from its so-called zero-Covid approach resulted in a massive surge that overwhelmed hospitals and funeral homes in December last year. Satellite images showed long queues outside funeral homes, while some crematoriums worked around the clock to keep up with the influx of bodies.

While the Chinese government stopped announcing the daily tally of Covid cases and deaths during the surge, the scenes offered a hint to the severity of the outbreak and how China mishandled its Covid reopening.

Officially, China put the total death toll from mid December to early February at 83,150.

But the country has been accused of masking the true impact of the pandemic and underreporting fatalities by narrowing the definition of Covid deaths. Doctors have also reported being pressured over how they attribute deaths due to Covid, counting only those that died from pneumonia and respiratory failure, but not other underlying conditions.

Researchers from the University of Hong Kong estimated in December that nearly a million people in China could die from Covid as the country rapidly abandoned pandemic restrictions.

Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in December that the country would calculate and release data on excess mortality – the number of total deaths during an observed period in comparison to the historical baseline, but the information has not so far been made public yet.

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