BEIJING, Jan 18 (Reuters) – Ailia, a former high school teacher, was devastated when her 85-year-old father died after showing COVID-like symptoms after the virus swept through their hometown in the southeastern province of Jiangxi.
Although her father was never tested, Ailia and her mother tested positive around the same time, and she believes that COVID caused her death.
Hundreds of millions of Chinese travel to visit their families for the Lunar New Year holiday starting in January. 21, many will do so after mourning relatives who have died in the world’s most populous wave of COVID-19.
For many, the mourning is mixed with anger over what they say is a lack of preparedness to protect the elderly before China abruptly abandoned its “zero-COVID” policy in December 2022 after three years of testing, travel restrictions and lockdowns.
Ailia, 56, said she supported the reopening of the economy, as did countless Chinese. Her father died in late December, just weeks after China lifted its COVID restrictions.
“We wanted everything to open up, but not open like this – not at the expense of so many elderly people, but at the expense of every family,” he said by phone.
China announced on Saturday that nearly 60,000 COVID-related hospital deaths had occurred since the end of “zero-COVID” — a 10-fold increase from previous figures — but many international experts say that is low, in part because of exclusions. People who died at home like Ailiya’s father.
A Chinese official said on Saturday that 90% of those deaths were 65 or older, with an average age of 80.3 years.
Many experts have said China has failed to use three years of largely containing COVID-19 to better prepare its population, particularly its hundreds of millions of elderly, for reopening — a criticism China has rejected.
Deficiencies cited include inadequate vaccination among the elderly and insufficient supply of therapeutic drugs.
A Chinese official said in January. More than 90% of people over 60 were vaccinated, but only 40% of those over 80 received special vaccinations by November. 28, the latest date for which that date is available.
“I wish they would use the resources used to control the virus to protect the elderly,” said Ailia, who like many of the people interviewed declined to use their full names because of the sensitivity of criticizing the Chinese government.
Chinese officials have repeatedly emphasized the importance of protecting the elderly, announcing measures ranging from vaccinations to identify high-risk groups to the creation of a task force in China’s largest city, Shanghai.
Beijing’s decision to end “zero-COVID” came after rare street protests against the policy in late November, but China’s public outcry over the end of its COVID restrictions has largely been through heavily censored social media.
A number of analysts said China’s handling of COVID has undermined confidence in the government, particularly among middle-class urbanites, but they do not see it as a threat to President Xi Jinping or the Communist Party’s rule.
Rushed and chaotic
Lila Hong, 33, who works in marketing for a car manufacturer, was in Wuhan three years ago at the start of the pandemic. Although her family went through a difficult early period when little was known about the coronavirus, last month she lost two of her grandparents and a great-uncle to COVID-19.
Hong remembers her father going to a crowded Wuhan crematorium to collect her grandparents’ ashes — a harrowing but common experience during the COVID surge in China.
“It was supposed to be a very solemn and respectful situation. You imagine it that way, but it actually felt like waiting in line at a hospital,” he said.
“I’m not saying reopening isn’t good,” Hong said. “I think they should have spent more time on preparations.”
A 66-year-old Beijing resident surnamed Zhang said he had lost four people close to him to the virus since early December, including his 88-year-old aunt, who contracted it while in hospital.
Like others, she said she felt the outcome of his death was chaotic, rushed and out of line with tradition.
“People have not had the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones. If we cannot live a decent life, at least we should be able to live a decent death.”
“It’s very sad.”
All but one of the seven bereaved relatives Reuters spoke to for this article said COVID was left off their loved ones’ death certificates, even though they believe it was the main trigger for their deaths.
Relatives were also skeptical of the official death toll, with some citing a loss of faith in the government during three years of “zero COVID” in handling the pandemic.
Philip, a 22-year-old student from Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, supported November’s anti-lockdown protests but felt frustrated by how the reopening was being handled and blamed the government.
Philip, who lost his 78-year-old grandfather, said: “They seem to have all the power in the world, but they didn’t do it well. I think if he was the CEO of a company, he should have resigned.” where December 30
“There was no effective medicine in the hospital,” I remembered. “It was overcrowded and there was a shortage of beds.”
After his grandfather died, his body was removed from the bed, quickly replaced by another patient.
“The nurses and doctors were so busy. They seemed to be constantly writing death certificates and giving copies to relatives. There were so many deaths…it’s a great tragedy.”
Additional reporting by Alessandro Diviggiano and Beijing Newsroom; Edited by Tony Munroe and Michael Perry
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
Leave a Comment