India coronavirus: Delhi builds makeshift funeral pyres in public parks as it runs out of space for dead

·4-min read
<p>A mass funeral takes place for Covid-19 victims at a cremation ground in New Delhi, India on 27 April 2021</p> (EPA)

A mass funeral takes place for Covid-19 victims at a cremation ground in New Delhi, India on 27 April 2021

(EPA)

Authorities in Delhi have been forced to build makeshift funeral pyres in public parks as the city runs out of space for the final rites of the dead, even as the country’s health minister claimed that the country is better prepared to face the second wave than it was during last year’s initial wave of infections.

Social media is flooded with pictures of people burning the bodies of their loved ones who died from Covid-19.

As most of the capital’s crematoriums are working beyond their capacity, local news reports show pictures of bodies lined up in a queue at cremation centres and people being forced to wait for more than 20 hours to get space to cremate their relatives’ remains.

As a result, the authorities have been forced to create more funeral pyres so that people do not have to wait for hours and risk exposure to the virus.

They are building dozens of new pyres at existing crematoriums, as well as using any additional space available, such as parking areas or nearby parks. Reports said officials are also exploring the possibility of siting new pyres near to the river bed of the Yamuna river.

Staff are overworked at many of the crematoriums, with cremations taking place from early morning till midnight. As a result, family members have been seen helping them prepare the pyres – a process which doesn’t allow for social distancing.

Due to the sudden increase in the number of deaths, demand for wood has increased. There have been unconfirmed reports of trees being felled in the city to provide wood for the funeral pyres.

Hospitals are witnessing a rush of patients trying to secure a bed, while there is overwhelming demand at pharmacies as people struggle to obtain critical medicines.

Locations where patients and their family members can purchase oxygen or refill empty cylinders are also seeing heavy demand.

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Meanwhile it is being claimed by Dr Harsh Vardhan that the country is “better prepared mentally and physically, with more experience” than was the case during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020.

There has been much criticism of his remarks on social media, alongside numerous reports highlighting the lack of critical medical supplies, hospital beds, oxygen (including cylinders), and even space for the cremation of those who have died.

Over the past several weeks, India has seen a massive rise in its daily number of Covid-19 cases. On Tuesday, the country recorded over 360,000 cases – a global record – and nearly 3,300 deaths. Since the start of the pandemic, India has recorded about 18 million cases including 200,000 deaths – second only to the US.

Many point out that the number of deaths is a conservative estimate, as thousands are not able to be tested and have started treatment on the advice of their doctors on the basis of Covid-19 symptoms.

In the past week, India has recorded over 2.1 million cases of Covid-19 – an average of more than 300,000 cases daily. Delhi has consistently recorded over 20,000 daily cases for the past several days, along with hundreds of deaths.

On Wednesday, the government opened up the vaccine registration process to people aged between 18 and 45, but the online portal where people were supposed to register faced numerous technical glitches.

While some claimed that they could not register due to technical issues, others feared that the vaccines may not be available for months as there are problems with supply.

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Adar Poonawalla, head of the Serum Institute of India, the company manufacturing the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca with the University of Oxford, on Tuesday announced that he is decreasing the price of the vaccine in order to try and help save more lives.

“As a philanthropic gesture on behalf of [Serum Institute of India], I hereby reduce the price to the states from Rs 400 (£3.86) to Rs 300 (£2.90) per dose, effective immediately; this will save thousands of crores of state funds going forward. This will enable more vaccinations and save countless lives,” he tweeted.

His announcement follows criticism that he was trying to make profits from the sale of vaccines while the country is reeling under the tsunami of cases. India’s ministry of home affairs announced on Tuesday that it would provide security for Mr Poonawalla.

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