COVID deaths surge in Tibet after lockdowns end

Numbers climb after authorities end restrictions on movement and gatherings in Tibetan areas.
By Sangyal Kunchok, Sonam Lhamo, Guru Choekyi for RFA Tibetan
2023.01.04
COVID deaths surge in Tibet after lockdowns end People wait to be treated at Lhasa public hospital on Dec. 25, 2022 in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.
Credit: Citizen journalist

COVID deaths are surging in Tibetan areas of China after strict lockdowns aimed at controlling the spread of the disease were ended by Chinese authorities in early December, Tibetan sources say.

More than 100 people have died in Tibet’s capital Lhasa since restrictions under Beijing’s zero-COVID policy were lifted on Dec. 7 following widespread protests across China, a source living in Tibet said.

“On Jan. 2 alone, 64 bodies were cremated at the Drigung Cemetery in Maldro Gongkar, with 30 cremated at the Tsemonling Cemetery, 17 at the Sera Cemetery, and another 15 cremated at a cemetery in Toelung Dechen,” the source said.

“Before this, only 3 to 4 bodies were cremated each day at these cemeteries in the Lhasa area,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

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Tibetans have also died of COVID in the Ngaba, Sangchu, Kardze and Lithang areas of the western Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai, other sources said, with so many bodies brought to Ngaba’s Kirti monastery in Sichuan that some were laid out to feed the vultures.

10 monks die

Another source in Tibet said that 15 elderly Tibetans had died from Dec. 7 to Jan. 3 in Ngaba county’s Meruma village alone. “But the Chinese government hasn’t offered any testing sites or facilities providing timely medical treatment, which is very concerning,” the source added.

“We are seeing 10 to 15 bodies brought to Kirti monastery every day so that monks can provide last rites. But around 10 Kirti monks, mostly elderly or having underlying health problems, have also died during the last four days,” the source said.

Many have also fallen ill after joining large gatherings to pray for the dead and infected, other sources said.

Every area affected

“There isn’t a single place in Tibet where COVID hasn’t reached,” a Tibetan living in Sichuan’s Derge county told RFA, speaking like other sources on condition of anonymity to avoid the attention of authorities.

 “For instance, in my own region, so many people are getting sick now with symptoms like high fever, and children are not even allowed to get vaccinated, which is even more worrying,” the source said.

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A volunteer delivers anti-epidemic supplies to Drepung Monastery on August 14, 2022 in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Credit: China News Service via Getty Images

Also speaking to RFA, another source in Derge said that everyone in his family was now sick, with no one well enough to go out to buy food. 

“One member of my family was sick for the last 8 days and still hasn’t recovered. We think that it’s COVID, but we don’t have the test kits or medical facilities that would let us know for sure,” he said.

Sources in Ngaba meanwhile reported a surge in local COVID infections after authorities relaxed restrictions on residents’ movements, with one source saying, “In my own circle of acquaintances, at least 40 Tibetans, many of them elderly, have died after falling sick.”

Requests to government hospitals for comment received no response, with one hospital in Gansu’s Sangchu county saying only that they had “a number of COVID patients” at their facility.

China’s National Health Commission announced on Dec. 25 that it would no longer publish daily COVID case numbers, adding to public concerns that it would conceal information about the pandemic’s spread following the easing of restrictions.

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi for RFA Tibetan. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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