Cremations in the Chinese province of Zhejiang rose more than 70 percent year-on-year in the first quarter, government data showed, an unexplained jump that occurred as a COVID-19 outbreak swept the country.
About 171,000 cremations were registered in Zhejiang - home to around 5 percent of China’s population - in the first three months of 2023, up from 99,000 in the same period last year, according to data on the province’s civil affairs bureau website.
The World Health Organization has said China has not given a full account of how many of its 1.4 billion population succumbed to the disease after it abruptly abandoned strict COVID-19 curbs in December last year.
China said around 80,000 people died from COVID-19 in hospitals across the country in the first two months after curbs were lifted, a period where funeral parlors said they were inundated and long lines of hearses queued outside crematoriums.
Some epidemiologists at the time estimated as many as two million people may die from the virus in China.
The province’s data, which did not state the cause of death, has since been taken down. Data for the fourth quarter was also not available. China’s ministry of civil affairs, which collates death statistics, has not published nationwide cremation data covering that period.
Both the Zhejiang provincial government and the ministry of civil affairs did not respond to requests for comment.
During the first three years since late 2019 when the pandemic broke out, China had kept the virus largely in check by “zero-COVID-19” policy of harsh lockdowns and mass testing.
But towards the end of 2022, the policy started failing as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spread rampantly and local governments struggled to cough up money and manpower to enforce the curbs.
China abruptly changed tack in December 2022 after protests in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities against the curbs.
In January, a government scientist estimated that 80 percent of China’s 1.4 billion people had become infected.