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Health workers carry out checks prior to mass nucleic acid tests in Shenzhen in March. Photo: Xinhua

Coronavirus in China: Covid tests for the dead spark online mockery in Shenzhen

  • Mix of derision and understanding as web user posts screenshot of Shenzhen rules requiring Covid-negative report for cremation
  • Staff member of Shenzhen’s only funeral home says application is flexible, cites eased pandemic situation
Authorities in China’s southern city of Shenzhen have drawn online derision over rules requiring Covid-19 tests for the deceased.

This came after a web user posted a screenshot of the “smart funeral” page in a Shenzhen Bureau of Civil Affairs app.

The page said applicants for cremation services were “required to provide proof of nucleic acid testing of the deceased, in addition to the death certificate and the notice of transporting of remains, if the deceased is from closed-off management areas, restrictive control areas and prevention areas”, referring to areas that have reported Covid-19 cases or places close by.

However, in case a nucleic acid test report of the deceased was not available, a “close-contact” relative’s test report would also do, the city’s only funeral home confirmed.

The notice sparked widespread mockery online. “Do the families need to take the dead body to get a nucleic acid test report?” some asked, while others showed some degree of understanding, saying the dead person could be carrying the virus and might need special handling.

Screenshot of the Shenzhen authorities’ “smart funeral” page. Photo:

An unidentified transport staff member at the Shenzhen Funeral Home, the only one in the city, confirmed to the news website that such a report would be a necessity, but “at the moment Shenzhen has no such [control] areas, so the policy can be ignored”.

Shenzhen has not reported any new Covid-19 cases since May 10.

Another unidentified staff member told Tianmu News that the policy requiring a negative test report for cremation had been jointly issued by the city’s health commission, civil affairs bureau and public security bureau earlier this year, but the mortuary had been flexible on its implementation.

“It is generally necessary to have proof of nucleic acid testing within 24 hours [of death]. If not, the epidemic prevention sites in Shenzhen can also conduct emergency testing and the results will be available in one or two hours. Test results from family members will also do in cases where it is not possible to produce such a report for the deceased,” the staff member was quoted as saying.

Tests for the dead: grumbles in China as anti-Covid measures become overly strict

A different set of protocols would be followed if the deceased had actually died of Covid-19, the worker clarified, adding that, as the epidemic situation in Shenzhen had eased, the process of reporting for cremation currently did not involve proof of being Covid-free.

New guidelines on burial and funeral management issued in February did not mention any request for nucleic acid tests on the deceased.

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic two years ago, the National Health Commission issued guidelines requiring the bodies of dead Covid-19 patients to be disinfected before being put in sealed bags, not to be opened again, and with cremation carried out at the nearest possible location.

No funeral service in the presence of the body was allowed, neither was its transport or burial.

In China, it is customary to pay final respects at a funeral service before the deceased is taken for cremation or burial, but this was not possible during the worst days of the pandemic.

Neighbouring South Korea adjusted its guidelines in January to allow families of those who died of Covid-19 to hold a funeral before cremation. Earlier, the government had requested cremation first in such cases.