India's crematoriums and burial grounds are working overtime. Even during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic last year, mortuaries in the world's second-most populous country managed to cope - if only barely.
Now, after facing a sharp jump up in daily new infections over the last 10 days, India has retaken its status as the second-worst hit country in terms of COVID. On Tuesday the country reported 161,736 new cases and 879 deaths, more than four times the daily average in January. Some have seen bodies piled up.
“Earlier 15 to 20 bodies were coming in a day and now around 80 to 100 dead bodies are coming daily," said Kamlesh Sailor, the president of a trust that operates a crematorium in Surat, a city in the industry-heavy western state of Gujarat.
"Even after the crematorium doubled capacity when India’s first virus wave struck last year and started operating 24 hours a day, families still needed to wait at least two to three hours to cremate the bodies of their relatives," he added.
Business is booming so much, it has become a problem, per BBG.
"We can’t afford to have long queues of people at the crematorium, as that again increases the risk of spreading infection," Sailor said.
"The situation is likely to worsen going ahead as hospitals across the city are filled to capacity."
The deluge of infections and deaths highlights just how unprepared Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has been to deal with the latest wave of the epidemic. Many of India's neighbors are now struggling with outbreaks of their own after watching India struggle.
Local media has been filled with grim reports of melting furnaces at crematoriums running non-stop, bodies piling up and smoke from continuously burning flesh creating another health risk for locals. Workers at six crematoriums across the country confirmed the scenes in phone interviews, saying they’ve seen Covid-19 deaths climbing.
One public health professional warned that long lines at crematoriums could also contribute to higher infection rates. In the capital New Delhi, the largest burial ground and cremation centers reported an average of 8-9 Covid deaths a day, up from one or two a month ago. They are preparing for more after the city on Monday reported a record high of over 11,000 new infections.
The deluge of infections and deaths highlight just how unprepared Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has been to deal with the latest wave of the epidemic, even as India has emerged as a global leader in production of the vaccine, while also winning early praise for its hated national lockdowns.
In the past weeks large crowds have gathered for elections rallies in five states, festivals, and religious pilgrimages -- indicating things could get even worse for the country and its crematoriums.
As Bloomberg pointed out, Media footage of queues at hospitals, critical medicine shortages, and an exodus of migrant workers heading to rural villages in fear of another lockdown has been reminiscent of the strict shutdown roughly a year ago that gave rise to one of the worst humanitarian crises the region has seen in decades.
The High Court in Gujarat on Monday urged the state government to take quick measures to deal with the growing health crisis and demanded an official report in two days. The state's lawyer, Kamal Trivedi, told the court that last week the government compelled some hospitals to set aside facilities for Covid treatment.“there>