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Relatives of those who recently died from COVID-19 in China are questioning the accuracy of their loved ones’ death certificates.
Grieving families expressed their dismay on social media after seeing that the cause of death on their relatives' death certificates were filled in with alternative afflictions, such as “pneumonia” or “heart disease.”
In China, hospitals are often responsible for preparing death certificates, but for those who die at home, such documents may be prepared by their local community clinic or even neighborhood committee. Police are also authorized to fill out death certificates in certain cases.
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Medical practitioners interviewed by the Financial Times admitted that they have been discouraged by local officials from including COVID-19 on the official documents either by direct order or deliberate overcomplication of procedures.
According to a source identified as Wang, the hospital where her relative died instructed them to have the death certificate processed at a community clinic, where officials wrote “viral pneumonia (unspecified)” as the cause of death.
“They said we can’t include Covid,” she was quoted as saying. “My mom was a little frustrated and questioned them — can ordinary pneumonia kill people ... but we didn’t want to argue with them, so we just agreed to write pneumonia.”
The alleged tampering of documents has resulted in many casting doubts on the official COVID-19 death tolls reported by authorities.
"We have stopped classifying COVID deaths since the reopening in December," a doctor at a large public hospital in Shanghai told Reuters. "It is pointless to do that because almost everyone is positive."
China recently announced that there were nearly 60,000 COVID-related hospital deaths in the first five weeks of its current outbreak.
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The National Health Commission attributed the high death toll to the surge of omicron variant cases following the government’s sudden pivot from its strict zero-COVID policy.
While the figure is the largest death record in the world, observers believe that the actual toll number could be much higher, potentially reaching hundreds of thousands.
As the latest figure only counted hospital deaths, some have posited that some of the undercounting could be attributed to deaths occurring in nursing care facilities or at home.
In addition to their skepticism about official death tolls, those who lost their loved ones to COVID-19 are saying the government’s "zero-COVID" pandemic management in the past three years has betrayed their trust.
Philip, a student who lost his grandfather to COVID-19 on Dec. 30, 2022, lamented to Reuters that the government has mismanaged the reopening of establishments in China.
"It seems like they have all the power in the world and yet they did not do this well,” he told the news agency. ”If it was a CEO of a company I think he would have to resign."
He cited crowded hospitals, lack of effective medicine and not enough hospital beds for his frustrations.
"The nurses and doctors were so busy,” he added. “They seemed to be constantly writing death certificates and giving copies to relatives. There were so many deaths ... it's a huge tragedy."