01/25/2023, 15.12
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Wuhan marks Lunar New Year with chrysanthemums in the streets to remember Covid dead

by John Ai

This is the first celebration in three years after zero-Covid restrictions were lifted. Families gather and crowds fill buses, trains, and plains. The number of infections is still high, hospitals are full, and funeral homes are working overtime. The authorities have shifted the focus to economic growth and boosted online censorship.

Rome (AsiaNews) – A Wuhan resident told AsiaNews that his family went to Baotong Temple on the first day of the lunar new year to wish luck and happiness for the coming year. The temple was full of people.

He said life is back to normal and people are relaxed enough to celebrate the festival. He confirmed that in Wuhan many people died during the pandemic. “On New Year's eve, chrysanthemums (which represents grief) are sold everywhere in the streets.”

In Wuhan, where the virus was first found three years ago, people set off fireworks to greet the new year. Following tradition, many people offered bouquets and burnt incense on the first day of the lunar new year to commemorate the family members who passed away during the pandemic. 

China marked the first lunar new year without lockdown since the outbreak of Covid three years ago. People are returning to their hometowns for family reunions during the holiday. Public transportation is becoming busy as before the pandemic. 

Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said that about 80 per cent of the population was infected with Covid and that China had passed the peak of infection, and that infections were declining.

He admitted that mass movement during the festival would increase the infections; however, the possibility of a second wave in the coming two to three months is still low. Chinese official media say that the number of patients in critical condition is declining but hospitals still have a heavy burden. 

It seems that Chinese authorities decided to adopt the tactic of getting as many as possible infected to achieve herd immunity sooner in order to revive the economy. China’s top leaders have announced that the focus will be on growth to revive the economy after the three-year zero-Covid policy.

China’s GDP grew by 3 per cent in 2022, lower than the 5.5 per cent target set by the authorities at the beginning of last year. Liu He, a Chinese vice premier who is expected to retire soon, gave a speech at Davos, signalling that China is returning to the world and promised that the country was open for business. 

According to Bloomberg, China’s foreign direct investment dropped 29 per cent in December after a 33 per cent slump in November 2022, while in February 2020, when Wuhan announced to lockdown, it was 26 per cent. It seems that foreign businesses are losing faith and confidence and that time is still needed. 

For the authorities, the number of deaths is a sensitive topic after lifting the lockdown. Usually for those who passed away in the pandemic, the reason for death given on the death certificate is not Covid infection.

In the beginning, Chinese authorities claimed that only dozens of people had died from Covid, but later announced about 60,000 deaths in hospitals. This number does not include those who died at home.

Medical experts warn that the virus can spread to the rural area where the healthcare system is weak and poses more threats to vulnerable groups and the elderly.  

Given the overburdened healthcare system and overwhelmed funeral homes across China, the number of deaths will be much higher than officially announced.

Airfinity, a health intelligence and analytics service provider based in the UK, estimated 674,000 deaths as of 19 January. The journal Science estimated in December that over one million would die from Covid in the coming months. 

Reports and online videos show overwhelmed funeral homes and bodies piled up to be processed. The cost for cremation has soared. Reuters says that many funeral parlours are running at maximum capacity, purchasing body bags, cremation furnaces, and refrigerators. 

Meanwhile, the authorities have tightened online censorship before the lunar new year. China’s internet supervisory body announced a crackdown on “false information” about the pandemic and speeches that foster a “gloomy mood” during the festival. This is seen as an effort by the authorities to prevent social panic over infections and deaths. 

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