Numerous people will travel to be with their families for the Chinese New Year holiday, which begins on Jan. 21, after grieving for relatives who died in the COVID-19 wave that ravaged the country with the highest population.
According to a special Reuters report, many people's grief is accompanied by anger over what they claim was a lack of planning to protect the elderly before China abruptly abandoned its zero-COVID policy in December 2022.
China announced on Saturday that there had been nearly 60,000 COVID-related hospital deaths since the end of zero-COVID, a 10-fold increase from earlier statistics. However, many international experts claim that this number is an undercount, in part because it does not include those who passed away at home.
According to a Chinese official, 90% of those deceased were 65 or older, with an average age of 80.3 years.
Many analysts have said that China failed to take advantage of keeping COVID-19 at bay for three years to properly prepare its population, particularly its hundreds of millions of elderly, for reopening - a charge that China denies.
Inadequate vaccination among the elderly and limited therapeutic medication supply were mentioned as shortcomings.
A Chinese official claimed on Jan. 6 that more than 90% of persons over the age of 60 had received vaccinations, but as of Nov. 28, the most recent date for which data was available, just 40% of people over the age of 80 had received booster doses.
The need to protect the elderly has been emphasized frequently by Chinese officials, who have announced a variety of initiatives, from vaccination drives to the creation of a task force in Shanghai, China's largest city, to identify high-risk groups.
After rare large-scale mass protests against the policy in late November, Beijing decided to end zero-COVID. However, public criticism of China's handling of the lifting of COVID-19 limits has primarily been made through severely regulated social media.
Several observers said China's handling of COVID-19 had reduced trust in the government, particularly among upper-middle-class urbanites, but they did not see it as a danger to President Xi Jinping's or the Communist Party's authority.
Reuters interviewed seven mourning family, and all but one said COVID-19 was left off their loved ones' death certificates, despite the fact that they feel it was a major factor in their deaths.
Relatives were also skeptical of reported mortality rates, with many noting a loss of faith in the government throughout the three years of zero-COVID pandemic management.