The toll of COVID-19 in China is not public. Satellite images seem to show that many people are dying

A satellite image taken on January 3, 2022 shows a funeral home in Huzhou with a crowded parking lot. A photo taken in January of last year shows far fewer cars. Credit – Maxar

Recent satellite images taken of funeral homes and crematoriums in several Chinese cities show a marked increase in activity, as coronavirus cases soar across the country and reliable death toll figures become harder to find.

in early December the following collective disturbancesChina radically transformed From the harsh anti-coronavirus policy to the large-scale reopening. Experts have warned that the wave of exit cases could lead to up to a Million victims, due to apparent deficiencies in the population’s immunity against infectious variants. Official data records 37 deaths related to COVID-19 from December 7 to January 8 – despite photos and videos of scenes at funeral homes and burial grounds. Mutual on me Social media They suggested that the actual count is higher.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Beijing has been accused of hiding actual COVID-19 numbers, especially since neighboring Hong Kong, which also has zero COVID policies, has recorded some 1.5% of adults age 80 and over Death from the disease by the end of the fifth wave of infection. Similarly, Hong Kong and mainland China have struggled to vaccinate their elderly population. Infections rose in Hong Kong in early 2022 after an outbreak of the Omicron variant.

Read more: Why can’t China end the policy of non-coronavirus spread

While an uptick in total deaths in the country during the winter is not uncommon, more than 30 images obtained by TIME from space technology company Maxar provide insight into the unique current situation through historical comparisons. An increase in foot traffic can be seen at crematoriums and funeral homes this winter, compared to snapshots from the same periods in previous years.

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China — which once touted the world’s lowest COVID-related death toll, which the Communist Party attributes to the protracted application of testing, quarantines and lockdowns under a “zero COVID” approach — is now facing criticism from the World Health Organization for allegedly underreporting. The current number of dead in the country.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a China expert and professor emeritus at Hong Kong Baptist University, told TIME that satellite imagery “shows that the number of deaths is much higher than what the authorities are saying.”

What do satellite images show?

Footage from the funeral home of Tongzhou District in the capital, Beijing, indicates that a new parking lot will be constructed by December 24, 2022, where dozens of vehicles are pictured. The quantity was not present in a snapshot taken less than three weeks ago.

منزل جنازة تونغتشو في بكين في 24 ديسمبر 2022. <span class ="حقوق النشر"> Maxar </ span>data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTM5OQ–/″><noscript><img alt= Maxar src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTM5OQ–/ class=”caasafaee4=”682″ -img”/>

Tongzhou funeral home in Beijing on December 24, 2022.Maxar

منزل جنازة تونغتشو في بكين في 6 ديسمبر 2022. <span class ="حقوق النشر"> Maxar </ span>data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTM5OQ–/″fc23be” /><noscript><img alt= Maxar src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTM5OQ–/″ class “caas-img”/>

Tongzhou funeral home in Beijing on December 6, 2022.Maxar

In eastern Jiangsu province, dozens of vehicles can be seen lined up outside and parked next to the Nanjing Funeral Complex, according to a snapshot taken on January 3. The vehicles are not captured in a previous photo taken on November 9, 2022.

الطرق المحيطة بالمنزل الجنائزي نانجينغ في مقاطعة جيانغسو في 3 يناير 2023. <span class ="حقوق النشر"> Maxar </ span>data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQxOA–/″d38458a38 /><noscript><img alt= Maxar src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQxOA–/″ class “caas-img”/>

Roads around the Nanjing Funeral Home in Jiangsu Province on January 3, 2023.Maxar

الطرق المحيطة بمنزل نانجينغ الجنائزي في مقاطعة جيانغسو في 9 نوفمبر 2022. <span class ="حقوق النشر"> Maxar </ span>data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQyMA–/”><noscript><img alt= Maxar src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQyMA–/” class=”caas” class=”caas” -img”/>

Roads around the Nanjing Funeral Home in Jiangsu Province on November 9, 2022.Maxar

In Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, satellite images show several vehicles, including white vehicles resembling trucks commonly used as hearses, surrounding the Donglin Funeral Home. A photo of the area taken a year ago on December 18, 2021, shows no vehicles in the area.

بالقرب من Donglin Funeral Home في مدينة تشنغدو يوم 21 ديسمبر 2022. <span class ="حقوق النشر"> Maxar </ span>data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTM5OQ–/″><noscript><img alt= Maxar src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTM5OQ–/″ class=”caas” -img”/>

Donglin funeral area in Chengdu on December 21, 2022.Maxar

بالقرب من Donglin Funeral Home في مدينة تشنغدو في 18 ديسمبر 2021. <span class ="حقوق النشر"> Maxar </ span>data-src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTM5OQ–/>f8bf8/f8bf89″<noscript><img alt= Maxar src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTM5OQ–/″ class=” -img”/>

Near the Donglin funeral home in Chengdu on December 18, 2021.Maxar

Why doesn’t China release numbers?

China did not update its daily COVID-19 reports for three days, an abrupt change in practice that casts doubt on the country’s transparency about the public health situation.

China’s top health officials claimed on Wednesday that it was too early to make an accurate tally of deaths and infections from the COVID-19 virus, according to a state newspaper. China Daily. China also counts deaths from pneumonia and respiratory failure as COVID-related deaths, while other governments use different metrics.

Wu Zunyu, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control, said the center plans to release them Excess mortality data to allay concerns about the validity of their statistics. There is no exact date when this data will be available.

Caestan, professor emeritus, says the lack of reliable information about the COVID-19 situation in China could hurt people’s trust in the authorities. “This complete opacity in terms of information is counterproductive [on] government,” he told TIME.

But China is unlikely to become transparent about the numbers any time soon, Cabestan explains, the government is likely to believe that keeping quiet will protect its image, and that even with funeral homes in high demand, most citizens will focus on returning to normal life and will that. Forget about hiccups in politics.

“It’s a political decision,” Capistan says.

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