Bodies pile up in Indian crematoriums overwhelmed by virus outbreak

India’s crematoriums and cemeteries are working overtime to cope with rising deaths due to the escalating coronavirus epidemic in the country.

India is now the second most affected country in the world, having overtaken Brazil again on Monday with a sharp rise in new daily infections over the past 10 days for a total of nearly 13.7 million cases. The country reported 161,736 new cases and 879 deaths on Tuesday – more than four times the daily average in January.

The local media were filled with grim reports of melting furnaces in non-stop crematoriums, bodies piling up and smoke of continuously burning flesh creating another health risk for residents. Workers at six crematoriums across the country confirmed the scenes in phone interviews, saying they had seen Covid-19 deaths climb.

“Previously, 15 to 20 bodies would arrive in a day and now around 80 to 100 corpses arrive each day,” said Kamlesh Sailor, chairman of a trust operating a crematorium in Surat, a town in the western state of Gujarat, very much. industrial. Even after the crematorium doubled its capacity when the first wave of the virus in India hit last year and started operating around the clock, families still have to wait at least two to three hours to cremate the bodies of their families. loved ones, he added.

“We cannot afford to have long queues of people at the crematorium because that again increases the risk of the infection spreading,” Sailor said. “The situation is likely to worsen as the city’s hospitals are filled to capacity.”

The deluge of infections and deaths shows how unprepared the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been to deal with the latest wave of the epidemic. In recent weeks, large crowds have gathered for election rallies in five states, festivals and religious pilgrimages – indicating that things could get even worse for the country and its crematoriums.

Even with the increase in the number of deaths, experts say India is still underreporting deaths. Death registration data was spotty even before the virus hit, with the vast majority – especially in rural villages – taking place at home and undocumented. For others who are reported, the cause of death is often trivial – old age or heart attack. Experts estimate that only 20-30% of all deaths in India are properly medically certified.

Media images of queues at hospitals, shortages of critical drugs and an exodus of migrant workers heading to rural villages for fear of another lockdown are reminiscent of the strict shutdown about a year ago that was resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises in the region. seen for decades.

“There was a lull in January and February with a much lower number of Covid deaths, but now, in the past three weeks, it’s overflowing,” said Namrata Singh, chief executive of Antim Yatra , a private funeral service provider in Delhi and Mumbai.

In the nation’s capital, New Delhi, the largest cemeteries and cremation centers reported an average of 8 to 9 Covid deaths per day, up from one or two a month ago. They are preparing to do more after the city reported a record high of more than 11,000 new infections on Monday.

At Nigambodh Ghat, New Delhi’s largest cremation ground on the banks of the Yamuna River, the administration “made arrangements to increase the number of wood pyres and also provided for additional manpower”, said Jai Prakash, the mayor of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation.

The Gujarat High Court on Monday urged the state government to take swift action to deal with the growing health crisis and requested a report in two days. State attorney Kamal Trivedi told the court last week the government forced some hospitals to reserve facilities for Covid treatment.

In Surat, which is north of India’s financial center of Mumbai, Sailor called on the government to “honestly give information about the death.”

“They should reveal both Covid and suspected Covid-related deaths, but that’s not happening,” he said.

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