BEIJING, Jan 18 (Reuters) – Former high school teacher Ailia was devastated when her 85-year-old father died after displaying COVID-19-like symptoms as the virus swept through their hometown in the southeastern province of Jiangxi.
While her father was never tested, Ailia and her mother tested positive around the same time, and she believes COVID was the cause of their death.
As hundreds of millions of Chinese travel to join their families for the Lunar New Year holiday starting January 1. On January 21, many will do so after mourning their relatives who died in the wave of COVID-19 that has hit the world’s largest population.
For many, grief is mixed with anger over what they say was a lack of preparation to protect the elderly before China abruptly abandoned its “zero-COVID” policy in December 2022 after three years of testing, restrictions travel and blockades.
Ailia, 56, said she, like countless Chinese, had supported reopening the economy. Her father died in late December, weeks after China lifted its COVID restrictions.
“We wanted things to open up, but not like this, not at the expense of so many seniors, which has a huge impact on all families,” she said by phone.
On Saturday, China announced that there had been nearly 60,000 COVID-related hospital deaths since the end of “zero-COVID,” a 10-fold increase from previous figures, but many international experts say that is an underestimate, in Partly because it excludes people who died at home, like Ailia’s father.
Among those deaths, 90% were 65 or older and the average age was 80.3, a Chinese official said on Saturday.
Many experts have said that China failed to take advantage of keeping COVID-19 at bay for three years to better prepare its population for reopening, especially its hundreds of millions of elderly people, criticisms China rejects.
Deficiencies cited included inadequate vaccination among the elderly and insufficient supplies of therapeutic drugs.
A Chinese official said on January 2. 6 that more than 90% of people over the age of 60 had been vaccinated, but the proportion of people over the age of 80 who had received booster shots was only 40% as of November 1. 28, the most recent date for which data was available.
“If only they used the resources used to control the virus to protect the elderly,” said Ailia, who, like many people interviewed, declined to use her full name given the finesse of criticizing China’s government.
Chinese officials have repeatedly mentioned the importance of protecting the elderly and have announced various measures, from vaccination campaigns to the creation of a task force in Shanghai, China’s largest city, to identify high-risk groups.
Beijing’s decision to end “zero COVID” came after rare widespread street protests against the policy in late November, but public complaints about China’s handling of the end of COVID restrictions have come in large numbers. measured through heavily censored social media.
Several analysts said China’s handling of COVID had eroded trust in the government, especially among upper-middle-class urbanites, but they did not see it as a threat to the government of President Xi Jinping or the Communist Party.
HASTY AND CHAOTIC
Lila Hong, 33, who works in marketing for a car manufacturer, was in Wuhan at the start of the pandemic three years ago. While her family got through that harrowing initial period when little was known about the coronavirus, she lost two grandparents and a great-uncle last month after they contracted COVID-19.
Hong recalls visiting a crowded Wuhan crematorium with his father to collect his grandparents’ ashes, a grim but common experience during China’s COVID surge.
“It should have been a very solemn and respectful situation. You imagine it like that, but it actually felt like standing in line at the hospital,” she said.
“I’m not saying the reopening is not good,” Hong said. “I think they should have given more time for the preparatory work.”
A Beijing resident surnamed Zhang, 66, said he had lost four people close to him to the virus since early December, including his 88-year-old aunt who became infected while in hospital.
Like others, he said he felt the aftermath of his death was chaotic, hasty and did not follow tradition.
“People haven’t had the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones. If we can’t live a dignified life, we should at least be able to have a dignified death,” he said.
“It is very sad.”
Of the seven bereaved family members Reuters spoke to for this story, all but one said COVID was not listed on their loved ones’ death certificates, although they believe it was a key trigger for their deaths.
Family members were equally skeptical of the official death toll, with several citing the loss of trust in the government during the three years of managing the “zero COVID” pandemic.
Philip, a 22-year-old student from Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, supported the anti-lockdown protests in November but is disappointed by how the reopening has been handled and blames the government.
“It seems like they have all the power in the world, and yet they didn’t get it right. If he was a CEO of a company, I think he would have to step down,” said Philip, who lost his 78-year-old grandfather. the dec. 30
“The hospital did not have any effective medication,” he recalled. “It was very crowded and there were not enough beds.”
After his grandfather died, his body was removed from the bed and quickly replaced with another patient.
“The nurses and doctors were very busy. They seemed to be constantly writing death certificates and giving copies to family members. There were so many deaths…it’s a huge tragedy.”
Additional reporting by Alessandro Diviggiano and Beijing Newsroom; Edited by Tony Munroe and Michael Perry
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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