Workers at crematoriums in Wuhan City, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, say their workload has increased dramatically in recent days, as they constantly transfer the bodies of victims from hospitals and private homes.
In an interview, a worker described long working hours to cope with the sudden increase in bodies to be cremated.
Meanwhile, videos from workers dealing with the crisis have been circulating on social media, including one from a worker at a Wuhan funeral home who shared footage of more than 10 bodies lying on gurneys, lined up for cremation.
Some Netizens also shared videos they shot within different hospitals in Wuhan, showing bodies waiting to be transferred from the hospitals to funeral homes.
Since funeral home workers don’t know for sure whether the person died from the coronavirus, they wear protective suits and masks in order to defend themselves from potential infection.
Wuhan has three main funeral homes in the downtown area, which are equipped with crematoriums. While cremation is a common burial practice in China, in a notice issued on Feb. 1, China’s National Health Commission said that people who have died from the virus can’t be buried and their bodies should be cremated immediately.
Because of the coronavirus outbreak, Wuhan’s Civil Affairs Bureau designated the Hankou Funeral Home to deal with the bodies of those who were diagnosed and died of the virus, according to state-run media. In addition, the Wuchang Funeral Home and Qingshan Funeral Home were designated to attend to those who died from severe pneumonia, or who were suspected coronavirus cases and died.
A worker at a Wuhan crematorium said in a Feb. 4 interview that he and his colleagues have worked 24 hours, seven days a week since Jan. 28. He said they are exhausted, and are working without proper equipment such as body bags, protective suits, and face masks.
“Since Jan. 28, 90 percent of our employees are working 24/7 … we couldn’t go back home,” a man identified as Mr. Yun told the Chinese-language Epoch Times in a phone call. He works at the Caidian Funeral Home, one of four facilities in a suburban area of Wuhan.
“We really need more manpower,” he said. Meanwhile, more bodies continue to arrive every day. “We need to pick up bodies when they (hospitals, communities, or family members of the deceased) call us. Every day, we need at least 100 body bags,” he said.
His workplace is required to pick up bodies from the Wuhan Tongji Hospital, Wuhan No. 13 Hospital, the newly built Huoshenshan Hospital, and other small hospitals, as well as any residences that request its services.
Yun says he’s spoken with workers at other Wuhan funeral homes, who are also overwhelmed. “Almost all staff at each funeral home in Wuhan are fully equipped, and all Wuhan cremation chambers are working 24 hours,” he said.
The worker said staff can only sit on their chairs and nap whenever they get a chance. “We can’t stop because we can’t leave the bodies outside for a long time,” he said.
The staff members also lack protective gear. “For us who transfer the bodies, we don’t eat or drink for a long time in order to preserve the protective suit, because we need to take off the protective suit whenever we eat, drink, or go to the bathroom. The protective suit can’t be worn again after being used,” he said.
Yun said other staff at the funeral home, such as the receptionists, don’t get to use protective suits. “They wear raincoats to protect themselves,” he said.
Yun says he’s heartbroken to see so many bodies and to know that many family members couldn’t see their loved ones in their final moment.
“We pick up bodies from people’s houses. Family members can’t see the body after we remove it,” he said.
According to new government regulations, funeral home staff pick up the bodies, then cremate them without notifying family members—so that the family can avoid contact with the body and potentially becoming infected with the virus.
“When family members come here, they can pay the cremation costs and then pick up the ashes,” Yun said.
“At hospitals, family members also are prohibited from seeing the bodies. Some of the deceased had hospital records, but many do not because they could not receive prompt hospital treatment before their deaths or died waiting,” he said. “Those are treated as unknown reason (for cause of death).”
Guyu Lab, an independent online news outlet, interviewed a worker at the Wuchang funeral home who was asked to pick up bodies from hospitals and residences, beginning Jan. 26.
“All male staff at our funeral home are picking up and moving bodies now, and female staff are answering the phones, disinfecting the funeral home, and so on,” Huang told the news outlet in a Feb. 3 report. “We work 24 hours. We are very tired.”
Huang said his funeral home doesn’t have the equipment to properly disinfect the facility. Workers have to reuse disposable protective suits, as there are no new ones. They wear swim goggles because they don’t have protective goggles, and must wear two layers of disposable plastic gloves because they have no rubber gloves.
“We are on the verge of collapsing. We really need help,” Huang said.