Briefly Published Zhejiang Cremation Statistics Hint at True COVID Death Toll

A quickly retracted Zhejiang report on provincial cremation statistics has shed new light on China’s coronavirus death toll. The chaotic end of China’s zero-COVID policy in late 2022 led to a surge in infections and deaths through the winter of 2022-23. The Chinese state’s published death toll, slightly under 60,000 between December 8 and January 12, was met with skepticism by international experts. Ascertaining the real number of deaths, however, remains a challenge because the central government stopped publishing cremation data, a key indicator of COVID deaths. A number of provinces followed suit—until late last week, when cremation figures were included in a quarterly report published by Zhejiang on a number of province-wide statistics such as adoptions, impoverished families, and village councils. This showed a nearly 73% increase in cremations over the same period in the previous year, offering a rough indication of the province’s coronavirus death toll.

The report was quickly removed from Zhejiang’s provincial website and some social media posts sharing cremation statistics have been censored, although a report on the data by the influential magazine Caixin remains live as of publication. Bloomberg’s Tom Hancock reported on Zhejiang’s belated effort to conceal cremation statistics

There were 171,000 cremations registered in the eastern province of Zhejiang in the first quarter, well above the 99,000 in the same period in year before, Chinese financial media outlet Caixin reported, citing official data released by the province. The official statement was later removed from the internet, according to Caixin.

[…] However, that number was widely seen as an underestimate because the government narrowed the criteria for classifying deaths caused by Covid-19 late last year. An estimate in January by Zuo-Feng Zhang, chair of the department of epidemiology at the Fielding School of Public Health at University of California, Los Angeles, put the number of deaths at about 900,000 in those five weeks.

[…] Although Zhejiang province deleted the first quarter data from its website, Caixin cited an unnamed local government official as saying that “some” of the deleted data was accurate and that cremations increased mainly because of the coronavirus. [Source]

Discussion of Zhejiang’s cremation statistics was censored on question-and-answer site Zhihu (which recently ended anonymous commenting). A question asking, “What to make of the recently published Zhejiang province 2023 1st quarter cremation statistics, which showed a 72% year-over-year increase?” was censored but not before some users were able to respond. One user responded with a (probably apocryphal) Stalin quote, writing: “‘The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of a million is a statistic.’ I hope our three years of effort at least diminished the total of that statistic.”

Behind the obscured statistics are the deaths of untold people, many of whose families were denied the truth about why their loved ones had died. At NBC News, Jennifer Jett reported on one woman’s grief over the loss of her mother, whose cause of death was listed as pneumonia despite positive rapid and PCR tests

Staff members at the retirement community were still testing residents regularly, going door to door. The mother’s PCR test on Dec. 23 came back positive, but the family was not informed, the daughter said. If they had been, she said, they would have told her to immediately take the Paxlovid antiviral medication they had sent from abroad.

On Christmas morning in China, the mother suddenly fell unconscious, and an ambulance was called. A rapid test administered by paramedics came back positive, and she was taken to the hospital, where her condition quickly deteriorated as the daughter and other family members watched over video. 

She died about 16 hours after the positive rapid test. […] The mother’s death certificate, her daughter said, lists her cause of death as “community transmitted pneumonia,” followed by a question mark in brackets. She had tested positive again at the hospital, “but still on her death certificate there’s no Covid mentioned,” her daughter said. [Source]


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