A family in southern India was shocked to see a woman whom they had already mourned as a victim of the country’s devastating second Covid wave turn up alive at home on Wednesday afternoon.
Muthyala Girijamma, a woman believed to be in her sixties in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, walked home from hospital almost two weeks after her family cremated what they had presumed to be her body on 15 May.
Ms Girijamma had been undergoing treatment for Covid-19 in the Government General Hospital in Vijayawada, the Times of India reported. She was admitted to the hospital on 12 May. A few days later, the hospital authorities reportedly informed the family that she had died of Covid-related health complications.
The woman’s husband, Muktyala Gaddayya, went to the hospital to check on her but couldn’t find her in the designated Covid ward. In many hospitals in India, Covid patients are allowed one family member or attendant with them inside the ward, often due to staff shortages.
He then asked the staff about his wife. According to India Today, the doctor on duty told him to collect his wife's body from the mortuary, though there were conflicting reports about who at the hospital told the family she had died, and when.
Nonetheless, Mr Gaddayya says he collected his wife’s death certificate from the hospital authorities, and went to retrieve her body.
At the mortuary, all bodies were covered in body bags and staff kept a distance due to Covid protocols. Mr Gaddayya did not see his wife’s face but identified the body of an elderly woman as hers, and asked the authorities to release it. He brought the body back to his village in Christianpet, and the family cremated the body on the same day. No one opened the body bag at home, as would be customary, for fear of catching the virus.
Another tragedy struck the family days after they cremated the body: Ms Girijamma’s 35-year-old son M Ramesh himself died of Covid-19 at a private hospital in Khammam in neighbouring Telangana state on 23 May.
The family decided to hold the funeral services for both mother and son together, on 25 May.
A local outlet in Andhra Pradesh, Samayam Telugu, reported that it was after this that Ms Girijamma walked back home from the hospital on Wednesday afternoon after being discharged, travelling on her own and in the scorching heat, much to the shock of neighbours.
The family soon realised they had cremated someone else’s body.
Mr Gaddayya told the Times of India: “I failed to identify the body as it was packed. Officials should take action against the hospital.”
The Deccan Herald reported that Ms Girijamma was livid with her family and complained that no one visited the hospital to bring her home.
There were conflicting reports about her age. One crime reporter in Andhra Pradesh tweeted that she is 55 years old, while other reports had her age as 62. One also suggested she was 75.
Meanwhile, the district administration has ordered an inquiry into the matter.
The Independent has reached out to the authorities at Government General Hospital in Vijayawada for comment.