India’s dramatic coronavirus crisis has forced crematoria in the capital New Delhi to build funeral pyres on the fly and against the clock, while parks and other empty areas of the capital are also used for cremations.
The high demand has led to the families of the deceased having to wait hours to cremate their loved ones, while the number of deaths attributed to covid-19 continues to increase.
The second wave of the pandemic is being devastating for the second most populous country in the world, with 1.35 billion inhabitants and which adds more than 300,000 new infections every day.
The rapid advance of covid-19 in the Asian country, which in a matter of weeks has multiplied the rate of infections dramatically, caused a supply crisis that drowns some of the worst-hit regions, such as New Delhi and western Maharashtra.
Working against the clock
At the Sarai Kale Khan crematorium in the capital New Delhi, at least 27 new pyres were built and another dozen were in progress on Tuesday in an adjacent park. Authorities also began searching for additional space near the Yamuna riverbed.
A worker at the crematorium, with an initial capacity of 20 bodies, told The Hindu newspaper that they are working from early morning until midnight.
According to the local press, authorities in New Delhi have resorted to cutting down trees from city parks to use as firewood for pyres.
Relatives of the deceased have also been asked to help with cremations by stacking wood and assist in other rituals.
The Ghazipur crematorium in eastern New Delhi built 20 pyres in a parking lot. An official told the Indian Express newspaper that the waiting time for cremation ranged from 3 to 4 hours, as the cremation of bodies takes up to 6 hours.
The situation is also serious in other crematoria.
Sunil Kumar Aledia, who runs the Center for Holistic Development, an organization that provides assistance with oxygen, food and cremations, told the BBC that some companies do not have the space to expand their services.
And it is very likely that the demand for cremations will continue to be high. In New Delhi, with a population of 20 million people, hospitals have been overwhelmed and oxygen for medical use is limited.
How serious is the situation in the country?
India has registered more than a million cases of Covid-19 in just a few days. Shortages of medicines, ambulances, oxygen and intensive care unit (ICU) beds have been reported.
At least two hospitals in the capital saw their patients die after running out of oxygen supply.
And it has become increasingly difficult for families to transfer their sick to hospitals even if they find a bed available. Many, in fact, have died waiting for one.
Given the scale of the crisis, social media is rife with pleas for help, with people desperately searching for oxygen, medicine and ICU beds.
Many countries have offered their help. Britain started shipping respirators and oxygen, although a spokesman for the prime minister, Narendra Modi, said the country had no surplus vaccine to make available to India.
France, Ireland, Germany and Australia are also sending medical teams, while the WHO assured that it will send thousands of oxygen generators.
The president of the United States, Joe Biden, spoke with Modi and assured him that he had “the full support” of the United States.
Washington lifted the ban on exporting raw materials for vaccine production abroad, allowing India to manufacture more doses of AstraZeneca. It will also provide medical and protective equipment.
However, Dr Zarir Udwadia, who works in Mumbai hospitals and advises the government, warned on the BBC’s Today program that the promised supplies will have limited effect. He said he was seeing “ward after ward full of patients struggling to breathe on ventilators of different forms and shapes”, reported on BBC.
Dr Udwadia explained that he was seeing, “shift after shift, people with breathing difficulties hooked up to respirators of different sizes and shapes.”
The number of recorded COVID-19 cases fell slightly on Tuesday to 323,144 from its peak of more than 350,000 the day before.
In total and until April 27, India had registered 17.6 million cases of coronavirus and 197,984 deaths, according to data from John Hopkins University.
However, it is believed that the actual number may be much higher.
An investigation reported by the NDTV network found at least 1,150 more deaths that had not been included in the official records of New Delhi last week. Other investigations have also yielded similar examples of cases that have not been reported.