Hearses queue at Beijing crematorium, even as China reports no new Covid deaths

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Dozens of hearses queued outside a Beijing crematorium on Wednesday, even as China reported no new Covid-19 deaths in its growing outbreak, sparking criticism of its virus accounting as the capital braces for a surge of severe cases.

Following widespread protests, the country of 1.4 billion people this month began dismantling its “zero-Covid” regime of lockdowns and testing that had largely kept the virus away for three years — at great economic and psychological costs.

The abrupt change of policy has caught the country’s fragile health system unprepared, with hospitals scrambling for beds and blood, pharmacies for drugs, and authorities racing to build special clinics.

Experts now predict China could face more than a million Covid deaths next year.

At a crematorium in Beijing’s Tongzhou district on Wednesday, a Reuters witness saw a queue of around 40 hearses waiting to enter, while the parking lot was full.

Inside, family and friends — many wearing white clothing and headbands as is tradition — were gathered around roughly 20 coffins awaiting cremation. Staff wore hazmat suits. Smoke rose from five of the 15 furnaces.

There was a heavy police presence outside the crematorium.