By Debarshi Dasgupta and Rohini Mohan

The flames leapt high from the pyres, outshining the mellow glow of the setting sun in the backdrop.

Bodies of Covid-19 victims being cremated at the Hindon Cremation Ground in Ghaziabad. ST PHOTO: DEBARSHI DASGUPTA

The heat was oppressive but even more searing was the heartbreaking scenes on Thursday (April 22) at the Hindon Cremation Ground in Ghaziabad, a Delhi suburb, overwhelmed with bodies of Covid-19 victims.

A young woman, kitted out in a full personal protective equipment (PPE) suit, stood wailing, her arms outstretched, as her father’s body was laid on a pyre after a few hours’ wait.

Nearby, two weeping women hugged each other, standing next to an ambulance that had the body of their loved one.

Crematoriums in Delhi and other parts of India have buckled under a record surge in Covid-19 deaths. The city registered 348 Covid-19 deaths on Friday, or one death about every four minutes, amid a spike in cases that saw the country report more than 330,000 new cases and 2,200 deaths that same day.

In the southern state of Karnataka, the government has been forced to permit families to cremate or bury their dead loved ones in their own farms, lands or backyards, as long as they complied with health guidelines.

A body being taken out from an ambulance at the Hindon Cremation Ground on April 22, 2021. ST PHOTO: DEBARSHI DASGUPTA

“It is prudent to swiftly and respectfully dispose the body in a decentralized manner keeping in view the grieving circumstance and to avoid crowding in crematoriums and burial grounds,” an April 21 order read, with Karnataka Chief Minister B. S. Yediyurappa describing the Covid-19 situation as “out of control”.

The state capital Bangalore – Asia’s Silicon Valley – had recorded the highest death toll in a day, with 124 deaths reported on Friday.

The city’s seven Covid-19 crematoriums have been operating round the clock to cremate 20 to 25 bodies arriving each day, about four times the average in normal times.

A major construction entrepreneur in Bangalore, who did not wish to be named, said his family dug up the lawn in his backyard to bury his father this week.

“As Hindus, we should cremate him, but all seven crematoriums in the city told us there’s a 48-hour wait,” he said, his voice choked with emotion.

An unnamed senior state health official from Gujarat told Reuters this week that the higher number of cremations is because bodies are being cremated using Covid protocols “even if there is 0.1 per cent probability of the person being positive”.

“In many cases, patients come to hospital in an extremely critical condition and die before they are tested, and there are instances where patients are brought dead to hospital, and we do not know if they are positive or not,” the official added.




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