As cases surge, COVID-linked deaths seen in Beijing after easing of virus rules

man in white medical scrub lying on hospital bed

BEIJING (AP) — Outside a funeral home in eastern Beijing, dozens of people were bundled up in parkas and hats against the freezing temperatures Friday evening as workers in full protective suits wheeled out coffins one by one.

When an employee with a clipboard shouted the name of the dead, a relative trundled up to the coffin to examine the body. One of the relatives told The Associated Press their loved one had been infected with COVID-19.

Deaths linked to the coronavirus are appearing in Beijing after weeks of China reporting no fatalities, even as the country is seeing a surge of cases.

That surge comes as the government last week dramatically eased some of the world’s strictest COVID-19 containment measures. On Wednesday, the government said it would stop reporting asymptomatic COVID-19 cases since they’ve become impossible to track with mass testing no longer required.

That halt in reporting made it unclear how fast the virus is spreading. Social media posts, business closures and other anecdotal evidence suggest huge numbers of infections.

It’s also unclear how many people are dying from the virus. An AP reporter who visited the Dongjiao funeral home was told by relatives that at least two people cremated there had died after testing positive.

Health authorities had designated Dongjiao and one other funeral home to cremate those who die after testing positive, according to a relative of one of the dead. The woman said her elderly relative had fallen ill in early December, tested positive, and died Friday morning in an emergency ward.

She said there were lots of people in the emergency ward who had tested positive for COVID-19, adding that there weren’t enough nurses to take care of them. The woman did not want to be identified for fear of retribution.

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