‘I feel nothing’: virus-stricken Wuhan buries its dead

People eat on a bench at a shopping complex in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicentre of China's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, March 31, 2020. (Reuters/Aly Song)
Short Url
Updated 31 March 2020

‘I feel nothing’: virus-stricken Wuhan buries its dead

  • Wuhan’s gradual re-opening in recent days has offered the first chance in weeks for the dead to be buried
  • After citizens of Wuhan and the rest of Hubei province spent more than two months confined at home, life is slowly inching back to normality

WUHAN, China: As China’s coronavirus epicenter Wuhan awakens from its long nightmare, formerly locked-down citizens are beginning to reemerge, but for many, their first outdoor act in more than two months is grim: burying loved ones.
At the Biandanshan Cemetery, downcast groups of masked residents filed quietly past hazmat-suit-wearing security personnel and police on Tuesday to lay friends and relatives to rest under a leaden sky, a scene repeated in recent days at Wuhan’s graveyards.
Whether from coronavirus or other causes of death, Wuhan’s gradual re-opening in recent days has offered the first chance in weeks for the dead to be buried, and for the bereft to vent over what one called a “hellish” experience for the city.
At Biandanshan, authorities mindful of infection risks funnelled groups into the hillside facility in lines separated by chest-high yellow traffic dividers, checking mourners’ temperatures and spraying them with disinfectant as they entered.
Some bore boxes swaddled in red, gold or black fabrics and containing cremated remains.
Grim-faced, many declined to speak to journalists, but one woman arriving for a family member’s burial expressed numbness.
“I don’t feel anything,” she said blankly.
Her relative had died of a stroke.
She gave no further details, but many of Wuhan’s 11 million residents have complained online of uninfected loved ones dying from other causes due to a lack of medical care during the epidemic, which overwhelmed the city’s hospitals.
One man with a box of ashes said he was a community worker tasked with burying another man who “had no family left.”
He said no more before entering the cemetery.
As small groups gathered quietly around gravesites on the hillside, a man draped in a blue plastic protective poncho stood silently near the cemetery entrance, holding a photo portrait of a woman who had died.
After citizens of Wuhan and the rest of Hubei province spent more than two months confined at home, life is slowly inching back to normality, though many restrictions on movement and public gatherings remain.
The scenes at cemeteries and funeral homes showed that one of the many things put on hold by the crisis were burials.
Relieving that pressure is one of the first things authorities have done, organizing a system in which families are notified that cremated remains are ready to be picked up, according to posts online by many next of kin.
Surviving family members are escorted to graves by government-assigned minders who were dispatched, authorities say, to provide transportation since much of the city’s transport remains shut down.
Citing epidemic-control reasons, authorities have also essentially banned observances associated with next weekend’s Tomb-Sweeping Festival, an annual tradition in which families honor ancestors by cleaning their graves.
The new regimented burial process, which allows only limited numbers of mourners into cemeteries for each funeral, did not sit well with some already angry over their loss.
A 52-year-old man who gave only his surname, Zhang, told AFP he believes his elderly father was infected while in hospital for a broken leg. His father died of coronavirus.
Zhang refused to be accompanied to the graveyard by minders.
“It’s my family business and I don’t want outsiders involved,” he said.
One woman who has written in online posts that her husband died of the virus — leaving her to raise their daughter alone — echoed the comments of other Wuhan residents who have expressed anguish at having to wait so long for burials.
Lamenting a “hellish period in Wuhan,” she finally deposited his ashes at a funeral home last week.
“My poor husband can finally rest,” she wrote, “and no longer needs to wander.”


In Haiti, disbelief and rumors lead to virus deaths

Updated 6 min 4 sec ago

In Haiti, disbelief and rumors lead to virus deaths

  • Medical personnel are baffled by the unwillingness of many Haitians to take the pandemic seriously
  • Those who are ill and relatives of those who have died refuse to believe that they are susceptible to getting sick

CITE SOLEIL, Haiti: On paper, Haiti so far has everything it needs to battle the coronavirus crisis — unoccupied hospital beds, medical staff and supplies.
But in reality, the population’s skepticism about whether the contagion even exists has led to a quickly mounting death toll.
“The illness is real. Many of our citizens are experiencing respiratory symptoms and other tell-tale signs,” said Erneau Mondesir, a doctor who works in impoverished Cite Soleil.
“It’s really important for them to believe this disease exists.”
And yet, despite the hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world, medical personnel are baffled by the unwillingness of many Haitians to take the pandemic seriously.
The first cases were detected in Haiti two months ago. In recent days, an increasing number of people are reporting symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
They insist they have a “bit of a fever” or a “mild illness” — but people are dying in and around the capital Port-au-Prince.
Those who are ill and relatives of those who have died refuse to believe that they are susceptible to getting sick.
Instead of seeking medical attention, some are relying on tea-based home remedies.
Mondesir works at a hospital in Cite Soleil — located just outside the capital — opened by Doctors without Borders (MSF). The 45-bed facility is restricted to coronavirus patients.
Two weeks after it opened, more and more people are being admitted. But there is still room for more.

“Today, one thing is clear: there are many people who stayed at home too long and then came to the hospital,” explained Mondesir, the medical director for the MSF project.
“That means treating them will not be as effective at the outset,” he added, before donning all of the necessary protective gear.
In the intensive care unit, oxygen machines hum and heart monitors beep — the repetitive rhythm of the otherwise calm room.
Doctors and nurses, their names scrawled in marker on their disposable gowns, regularly check on their patients. For now, only three of 10 beds are in use.
“These are the patients in critical condition. They arrive in a coma, and with complications,” said Antonio Plessy, another doctor in the unit. Behind him, an elderly man lies unconscious.
“We’re trying everything: giving them high levels of oxygen, anticoagulants, antibiotics... We’re doing everything until they breathe their last breath,” said the anesthesiologist.
According to the latest data, published late Wednesday, there have been 50 virus-related deaths in Haiti, out of 2,640 confirmed cases.
But even the national crisis management committee acknowledges that the real figures are higher, given the relatively small number of tests conducted so far.
In a country where so many rely on the informal economy to get by, lockdown measures have been impossible to impose, and social distancing in crowded markets is a pipe dream.
Even getting people to wear a mask properly — technically required in public spaces since May 11 — is a challenge. Medical experts are certain that an uptick in infections is coming.
“If we can’t limit the spread of this pathogen now, we can at least try to limit the damage,” said Mondesir, adding that he wishes contact tracing were a viable possibility.
“It usually takes a week or two from the time that symptoms first appear for patients to show up at the hospital,” he noted.
“It’s very hard to trace all the people these patients have been in contact with, beyond those who live with them.”


Jonel Cadet, 25, only found out he had coronavirus because he had a motorcycle accident and broke his leg.
“I developed a bit of a fever when I was in the hospital. It dropped quickly, but then they put something in my nose and then my throat, and then they told me I was infected,” he said.
Before he ended up in the hospital, he was among the skeptics. He even had to convince his relatives to let him seek treatment at the MSF facility.
“I didn’t believe it, and I even said the president was talking nonsense,” he said with a laugh.
“It was only by coming here that I really started to believe, because I saw people who were much worse off.”
Beyond the general skepticism that reigns in Haiti, there are also those who believe a rumor that any treatment involving a needle in a coronavirus treatment center will be deadly.
“My brother thought they would kill me at the hospital,” said Cadet, who has now recovered after two weeks of inpatient care.
“I told him God would decide. But no, it has to be said — no one kills people at hospitals.”
Cadet advises his countrymen to “wear masks, and then there you go, no corona.”
His broken leg is now healing in an exterior metal brace, and he is eagerly awaiting a return to a “normal” hospital as it heals.