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China’s Rising COVID-19 Death Toll

Satellite images suggest a higher number of deaths as China suspends short-term visas for South Korean and Japanese travelers in a retaliatory measure.

By , a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews.
Funeral workers load a body to be cremated in China.
Funeral workers load a body to be cremated in China.
Funeral workers load a body to a cart to be cremated at a crematorium in China’s southwestern city of Chongqing on Dec. 22, 2022. NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at satellite images of China’s crematoriums, Peru’s escalating violence, and a potentially shaky U.S. future for former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

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Crowded Crematoriums Show True Extent of COVID-19 Outbreak

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at satellite images of China’s crematoriums, Peru’s escalating violence, and a potentially shaky U.S. future for former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Crowded Crematoriums Show True Extent of COVID-19 Outbreak

According to the Chinese government, just 40 people have died of COVID-19 since Dec. 7, 2022, when zero-COVID restrictions were reversed. But satellite imagery examined by the Washington Post suggests the death toll is far higher. Images show, for example, that an in-demand funeral home on Beijing’s outskirts built a new parking lot and that there has been increased activity in funeral homes across several different cities. Imagery suggests more activity than “comparable periods” over the last year.

The Washington Post also verified social media posts that spoke to “long wait times” and “overwhelmed staff.” Interviews conducted by the paper also indicate that the situation in China is worse than official data would suggest.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has already warned about the reliability of China’s COVID-19 data while China insists it has been transparent. The WHO has so far not identified particular COVID-19 variants of concern from China, but it has acknowledged that its assessments are being made with what it worries to be incomplete information.

China reopened its borders this week amid a COVID-19 surge that is expected to get worse as people travel for the Lunar New Year. Some countries have imposed travel requirements on Chinese travelers, such as negative tests before departure or testing on arrival.

China has retaliated against two of those countries, suspending short-term visas for South Korean and Japanese travelers. The Chinese Embassy in Seoul said the suspension would be lifted if South Korea ends its “discriminative inbound restrictive measures.” South Korea’s foreign ministry spokesperson said, “The Korean government’s strengthened prevention measures for entrants from China are based on scientific and objective grounds.”


What We’re Following Today 

Peru protests. Anti-government protests in Peru escalated on Tuesday and at least 17 people died in the southern city of Juliaca near the Bolivian border. Authorities claimed thousands of people attempted to overrun an airport; human rights groups called it a “massacre.” Supporters of the former president, Pedro Castillo, have staged protests for the past month calling for new elections and the resignation of his successor, Dina Boluarte. At least 47 people have been killed and hundreds of people injured since early December 2022.

On Tuesday, Boluartes government survived a no-confidence vote, but Perus top prosecutors also announced an investigation into potential human rights violations by government forces, including shooting demonstrators and dropping smoke bombs from helicopters. According to the Guardian, the attorney generals office said it was investigating Boluarte, Prime Minister Alberto Otárola, the defense minister, and the interior minister on charges of “genocide, qualified homicide, and serious injuries.”

Bolsonaro’s visa status. Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is currently in the state of Florida, to which he flew shortly before his successor’s inauguration, but that could change. If Bolsonaro—when he entered the country on Dec. 30, 2022—used an A-1 visa (the kind used by foreign leaders), he may have to leave. The U.S. State Department said it does not comment on specific cases, but that if a leader comes to the country on an A-1 visa that then is no longer on official business, the official would have to leave within 30 days or be removed.

Current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has blamed Bolsonaro for the fact that rioters stormed government buildings on Sunday; Bolsonaro denies responsibility. Some elected U.S. politicians, notably Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congresswoman from New York, said the United States should stop “granting refuge” to Bolsonaro after the events on Jan. 8.

Rescuers who saved migrants are on trial in Greece. Twenty-four Greek and foreign aid workers and volunteers are now on trial after participating in migrant rescue operations. They are being tried in connection to smuggling, which all 24 people deny. The case was initially set for 2021 but was postponed for procedural reasons. One of the volunteers, Sean Binder, said, “What is on trial today is human rights.” Amnesty International has described the case against the volunteers and aid workers as “farcical.” Binder also said they were “desperate to go to trial” because they know “what we did was legal.”


Keep an Eye On

Ukrainian forces facing pressure in Soledar. According to the United Kingdom’s defense ministry, Russian forces are now “likely” to control most of Soledar, a salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine—just outside Bakhmut, where the fight is also intensifying and which is on the strategic supply line between the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Soledar may be mostly a way to help Russian forces capture Bakhmut, although last month, a U.S. official said Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Wagner Group, wants control of the area’s salt mines; the mines are known for an extensive complex of underground tunnels and rooms that could house troops and weapons. Russia is pushing for its first breakthrough in eastern Ukraine in months.

Five million children died before turning 5. The United Nations Interagency Group for Child Mortality Estimation published figures that showed that, in 2021, 5 million children worldwide died before their fifth birthday. Almost half of them died before they turned 1 month old. The United Nations said for those children who make it past the first 28 days of life, the biggest threats are diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria. Children born in sub-Saharan Africa are 15 times more likely to die in childhood than those born in Europe or North America, and campaigners believe that most of the 5 million deaths could have been prevented with improved health care.


Tuesday’s Most Read

What We’ve Learned From the War in Ukraine by Ravi Agrawal

Lessons for the Next War by FP Contributors

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse by Alexander J. Motyl


Odds and Ends 

Fugitive cows caught in Canada. After months on the run, the last of the runaway herd of Quebec Holsteins evading capture were found and brought home. The local agricultural producers union, UPA Mauricie, has been leading the effort to capture the cows since last month. The herd of 20 cows had been at large since July 2022. UPA Mauricie apparently lured the cows with food, a move made easier by the colder winter months and relative lack of food availability on the ground.

Emily Tamkin is a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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