As COVID surged in China, so did spending by funeral providers

By Eduardo Baptista BEIJING (Reuters) - A funeral parlour in the Chinese city of Shantou published a tender recently for an "emergency purchase" of two cremation ovens,

according to a government procurement database, one of several indications of COVID-19's deadly toll. A funeral service centre in the Sichuan province city of Zigong

explained the purchase of 196,230 litres of diesel, a 40% increase from its annual average, by noting its supply was "almost exhausted." While neither facility cited a surge

in COVID deaths as the reason for the purchases, spending by funeral homes on items from body bags to cold storage containers has risen from the previous year in many provinces

since China abruptly ended its zero-COVID policy in early December, documents show. Neither of the two mortuary facilities could be reached for comment. COVID-19 has

rampaged across China since December, exacting a heavy toll on a population of 1.4 billion, with widespread reports of crowded hospitals and crematoriums that point to far more

deaths than those included in official data. China said last Saturday that nearly 60,000 people with COVID had died in hospitals between Dec. 8 and Jan. 12 - a roughly

10-fold increase from previous disclosures. However, that figure excludes those who died at home, and some doctors have said they are discouraged from putting COVID on death

certificates. Health experts say China's official figures likely do not reflect the true toll of the virus. A review of publicly available tenders from government-run

mortuary facilities shows a rise in equipment purchases since early December, compared with the same period a year earlier.