As India struggles to get on top of a surging coronavirus outbreak, its hospitals and crematoriums have been pushed to their limits as they face a daunting influx in cases and deaths.
The world’s second most populous nation reported a record number of new coronavirus cases on Monday and a death toll of more than 400 people in the past 24 hours as foreign embassies warned their citizens that Indian hospitals might not have beds for them.
The 15,000 new cases brought India's total to more than 425,000, behind only the United States, Brazil and Russia, according to data from the federal health ministry.
Nearly 14,000 people have now died from the disease caused by the virus since the first case in India in January.
Since June 10, more than 300 people have died from the virus each day in India, however, local councils have questioned official government figures suggesting they are too low due to the amount of victims being cremated.
Confronting images emerge daily from New Delhi crematoriums which have been left no choice but to begin performing cremations outside using wood pyres, as crematorium furnaces struggle to keep up with the arrival of victims’ bodies.
While the method is traditional, there is no time for any rituals as limited family members watch on behind screens as smoke fills the surrounding air.
Governments and relatives are pushing for gas-fuelled incinerators due to infection fears, however crematoriums simply cannot keep up.
Bodies wrapped in white sheets are laid one after another onto wooden pyres, as bodies arrive from the morgue piled into the back of a van.
Vans crammed with bodies arriving at Delhi crematoriums
“In the beginning, I used to carry only one body. Now, helpers at the morgue will stack as many bodies as they can fit in my van,” said Bhijendra Dhigya, who drives a hearse from one New Delhi hospital to the crematorium.
The city’s four main crematorium grounds have been forced to extend their opening hours and have quadrupled the number of cremations performed daily.
A spokesperson of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation said all funeral sites were able to perform 95 cremations a day, but this has since been increased to 360, Times of India reported.
“I never thought I would watch my mother go like this,” Raj Singh said following the cremation of his 70-year-old mother who died from COVID-19.
Mr Singh had envisaged a proper cremation for his mother, the funeral rite that Hindus believe releases the soul from the cycle of rebirth, yet instead of chanting sacred Vedic hymns and sprinkling holy water from the Ganges River, all he could do was place his mother’s wrapped corpse on a wooden pyre and along with a handful of relatives watch it burn.
The death toll in India remains low when compared to countries with similar numbers of cases but public health experts fear its hospitals will be unable to cope with a rise in cases.
The government previously predicted New Delhi alone would have more than 500,000 cases by the end of July.
Hospital warning for foreign residents
The German embassy sent messages to its citizens living in New Delhi warning them that there was "little to no chance" of admission to hospital for treatment for coronavirus as well as other intensive care needs.
The message was not an order to evacuate the country but to consider whether India remained safe depending on individual circumstances, a diplomat said.
The German advisory follows Ireland in suggesting that its citizens leave India due to the availability of hospital beds.
A dashboard run by the Delhi state government showed more than 7,000 hospital beds were available for coronavirus patients on Monday, though most of those were in a handful of government hospitals. Patients looking for beds have questioned the accuracy of the data.
Despite the peak of infections projected to be weeks if not months away Prime Minister Narendra Modi relaxed most parts of a near three-month lockdown on June 8 in order to ease economic pain.
with AP and Reuters
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