The Chinese city of Wuhan —where the novel coronavirus outbreak first surfaced — was partially reopened on Saturday after a two-month lockdown. Even as some passenger and subway trains resumed operations, residents of the city had questions of their own.
According to a report of the Radio Free Asia (RFA), there is growing doubt among the residents over the official figure of 2,500 deaths in the city, and many believe that the numbers are far greater than what’s being reported.
China reported a drop in new coronavirus infections for a fourth day as drastic curbs on international travellers reined in the number of imported cases, while Wuhan saw no new case for a sixth day as businesses reopened, according to Reuters.
As the week began, seven funeral homes in Wuhan have been disbursing cremated remains of 500 people to the kin of the deceased. This has left many residents feeling sceptical about the official figures released by the authorities.
"It can't be right... because the incinerators have been working round-the-clock. How can so few people have died?" a Wuhan resident told RFA. He added the funeral homes had started giving out the ashes and commenced interment ceremonies on Monday.
At present, seven funeral homes are running in Wuhan. The RFA report, citing a news website Caixin.com, claimed 5,000 urns — almost double the number of deaths reported — had been distributed by Hankou Funeral Home’s supplier in a single day.
Some posts shared on social media claimed that all seven funeral homes in Wuhan are giving out 3,500 urns per day in total, the report added.
Families were told by the funeral homes that they will try to conclude the cremations before the traditional grave-tending festival of Qing Ming on April 5, which would mark a 12-day process starting March 23, the report said.
If one were to go by these estimates, it would imply that around 42,000 urns would be handed out during the said period.
A resident of Hubei province told RFA that most people now feel that over a staggering 40,000 people had died in Wuhan before and during the lockdown.
"Maybe the authorities are gradually releasing the real figures, intentionally or unintentionally, so that people will gradually come to accept the reality," the resident, who gave only his surname Mao, was quoted as saying by RFA.
Another highly placed source close to the provincial civil affairs bureau told RFA that many people had passed away in their homes, without receiving any treatment or diagnosis for Covid-19.
The source added the city had witnessed 28,000 cremations within a span of a month, indicating that the estimates over a two-and-a-half-month time-frame was not exaggerated.
Wuhan’s residents have also alleged that the officials were trying to buy out the silence of the residents through monetary offers.
Chen Yaohui, a local, told RFA that city officials were giving out 3,000 yuan as “funeral allowances" to the families of the deceased, adding not a single resident believes the official death toll.