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India Covid crisis: Is Delhi underplaying its death toll? Ground realities suggest so

Tarushi Aswani/New Delhi
Filed on April 25, 2021
Relatives of a Covid-19 victim mourn during a cremation in New Delhi. Photo: AFP

Spiralling contagion deaths go undercounted and underreported, as fear grips the national capital's panic-stricken residents.


As Covid-19 devastates Delhi, the national capital of India, deaths go undercounted and underreported, ground realities suggest.

Ankush Sharma, a caretaker at the Madanpur Khadar crematorium, which is located adjacent to Faridabad district in neighbouring Haryana in the national capital region (NCR), is overwhelmed by the growing number of bodies he has to cremate over the past four days.

On Saturday (April 24), Sharma cremated 26 bodies, as Delhi logged the highest Covid-19-related deaths at 357.

But deaths are being largely downplayed in the teeming megapolis of over 20-million people in a bid to understate the human toll of the viral new cases.

India accounts for nearly half of all new Covid-19 infections in a global surge, data shows.

Sharma recounted how ambulances start lining outside the cremation ground.

"People are not coming to the facility from adjoining areas to perform their loved one's last rites, but they hail from far and wide. The public has resorted to cremating bodies in any empty space that they can find near the ground because of the pile of corpses amid an acute shortage of firewood," he said.

Other cremation grounds such as at Lodhi Road, Nigambodh Ghat, Antim Niwas (Noida), Punjabi Bagh, Uttam Nagar, Ghazipur, Kalkaji, Dakshinpuri are all overflowing as people are dying like fireflies from the contagion.

Golu, a Delhi resident, was at Nigambodh Ghat cremation ground on Sunday morning to cremate his mother, who died of Covid-19 at a ripe old age. The shortage of oxygen led to her death, Golu said.

Two workers from the Burari Hospital, who were present at the cremation ground, echoed Golu because the shortage of oxygen cylinders have deepened the crisis to epic proportions.

Surinder, a worker with a private ambulance service, claimed that Nigambodh Ghat has been experiencing a growing waitlist of bodies to be cremated.

He said people have had to wait for hours and usually a body takes up to six hours to be consigned to flames.

Vikas Kumar, a cleaner at Nigambodh Ghat, said on Saturday 349 bodies were cremated, even though it has a total capacity of 160 platforms. Bodies were cremated at empty spaces since platforms were occupied.

The Ghazipur crematorium authorities have made arrangements for 20 additional funeral pyres in their parking lot in a bide to cope with the rising body counts.

Most caretakers of crematoria said that the price of wood used to burn bodies have doubled because of supply woes.

At Gor-E-Ghariban burial ground in Shaheen Bagh, bodies have been waiting for both their turn and space that are shrinking by the day. Since the past week, approximately 100 bodies have been buried in this graveyard.

Abdul Razak, a caretaker at the burial ground, said: "Usually, we don't receive these many bodies in four-five months. But the past week has been terrible. On Saturday, 11 people were buried and all of them died of Covid-19. We'll have to flatten the burial ground to accommodate more bodies."

On Saturday, two private hospitals in the city --- Saroj Super Speciality Hospital and Batra Hospital -- had asked the families of Covid-19 patients to shift them to other healthcare facilities due to oxygen shortage. Moolchand Hospital, Max Hospital Saket, Pentamed Hospital, Gandhi Hospital, among other prominent health care facilities, also reported a severe oxygen shortage.

This contagion wave, which has brought the city to its knees with 24x7 ambulance sirens keeping the residents on edge, save our soul (SOS) messages over social media platforms seeking desperate help for oxygen supplies, hospital beds' availability, plasma donors, and drugs to fight the lethal viral scourge have been hitting smartphones daily with unflinching regularity.

Fear is the key among the panic-stricken people of Delhi. Hospital authorities are begging the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Central government for more oxygen supply, as the raging viral outbreak has led to a growing crunch of the gaseous substance, the lifeline for Covid-19 patients.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Saturday wrote to all chief ministers, requesting them to provide spare oxygen to the city-state.

The city, which entered into a week-long lockdown on April 19, has extended by another seven days till May 3.





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