Evidence of a considerable number of Covid-related deaths in China’s rural regions, as the virus spread from big cities to more remote areas with older populations was found.
In Xinzhou region of northern Shanxi province the coffin makers have been busy. We watched the skilled craftsmen as they carved elaborate decorations into the freshly-cut wood. Over recent months, they say, they haven’t had time to stop.
One villager, a customer, told us that at times the coffins have sold out. Laughing with a dose of the black humour you find in the area, he added that those in the funeral industry had been “earning a small fortune”.
There has been much debate about the real number of Covid deaths in China, after the virus ripped through its megacities.
Some 80% of the population – more than a billion people – have been infected since China scrapped restrictions in December, according to leading epidemiologist Wu Zunyou. Last weekend China reported 13,000 Covid-related deaths in less than a week, adding to the 60,000 deaths it has counted since December.
But these deaths have been in hospitals. In rural areas there are only sparse medical facilities and those who die at home are mostly not being counted.
There is not even an official estimate for the number of village deaths. But the BBC found evidence the death toll is mounting.
We visited a crematorium and they too have been busy, mourners dressed in white walking forward carrying the ceremonial box which would eventually contain the remains of a loved one.
In another village, we saw one man and woman loading huge tissue paper birds onto the back of a flatbed truck. “They’re cranes. You ride the crane into the afterlife,” the woman said.
As they packed up other elaborate, Buddhist images newly made from tissue paper they said they’d had an explosion in demand for their funeral decorations, two or three times what’s normal.
Everyone we met in this part of Shanxi who is connected to the funeral industry told us a similar story about an increase in deaths and they all attributed it to the coronavirus.