India’s morgues are filling with the dead and graveyards and crematoriums are overwhelmed.
When Raj Singh’s 70-year-old mother died from the coronavirus in India’s capital, he took comfort in the prospect of a proper cremation, the funeral rite that Hindus believe releases the soul from the cycle of rebirth.
But instead of chanting sacred Vedic hymns and sprinkling holy water from the Ganges River, all Singh could do was place his mother’s wrapped corpse on a wooden pyre and along with a handful of relatives watch it burn.
“I never thought I would watch my mother go like this,” he said.
Like elsewhere in the world, the novel coronavirus has made honoring the dead in New Delhi a hurried affair, largely devoid of the rituals that give it meaning for mourners. Cemeteries and crematoriums are overwhelmed, so there isn’t much time for ceremony, and even if there were, the government limits the number of people allowed at funerals and those in attendance must maintain distance and wear masks.
“The whole grieving process has been interrupted,” said Pappu, who goes by only one name and lights the funeral pyres at Nigambodh Ghat, New Delhi’s biggest crematorium.
New Delhi has officially reported close to 1,100 deaths from the coronavirus, but cemeteries and crematoriums in the city say the actual number is several hundred higher. Hospital morgues are beyond capacity, and with summer temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Farenheit) some bodies are being kept on thick ice slabs.
“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 spike in deaths in New Delhi comes amid a broader virus surge throughout India, where authorities are reporting some 10,000 new infections each day and more than 300 deaths. Nevertheless, India lifted most of the remaining restrictions from its 10-week lockdown on June 8, the same day it recorded what at the time was its highest single-day death toll from the virus.
On Friday, India’s nationwide caseload overtook Britain to became the fourth highest in the world with 297,535 confirmed cases and 8,498 deaths, according to the Health Ministry. But that is just the known cases. Like elsewhere in the world, the actual number of infections is thought to be far higher for a number of reasons including limited testing.
New Delhi’s health centers are under immense strain and the state government’s deputy chief minister, Manish Sisodia, said this week that a state health department model has projected a worst case scenario in which the number of infections in the capital — already at nearly 35,000 — could reach 550,000 by the end of July.
In the worst case scenario, Sisodia said New Delhi would need 80,000 hospital beds, far more than the roughly 9,000 hospital beds currently available for virus patients. The state government is considering taking hotels and sports stadiums to use as field hospitals.
The capital’s Nigambodh Ghat crematorium has handled more than 500 coronavirus cremations since the beginning of the outbreak. When some of its gas-fueled incinerators broke down, there was no one willing to repair them, so the staff reverted to traditional wooden pyres.
Even with working hours extended, there has been no time for individual cremation ceremonies and exhaustive rituals with incense, garlands of marigold and chanting.
The crematorium is now largely quiet except for the distinct snap and crackle of the burning wood and the din of sirens from ambulances bringing more bodies.
Featured image: People wait by the burning pyre of a relative who died of COVID-19, at a crematorium in New Delhi, India, Friday, June 5, 2020. The coronavirus pandemic is leaving India’s morgues piling up with the dead and graveyards and crematoriums overwhelmed. Like elsewhere in the world, the virus has made honoring the dead in New Delhi a hurried affair, largely devoid of the rituals that give it meaning for mourners. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
Alarming rise in virus cases as states roll back lockdowns
States are rolling back lockdowns, but the coronavirus isn’t done with the U.S.
Cases are rising in nearly half the states, according to an Associated Press analysis, a worrying trend that could intensify as people return to work and venture out during the summer.
In Arizona, hospitals have been told to prepare for the worst. Texas has more hospitalized COVID-19 patients than at any time before. And the governor of North Carolina said recent jumps caused him to rethink plans to reopen schools or businesses.
There is no single reason for the surges. In some cases, more testing has revealed more cases. In others, local outbreaks are big enough to push statewide tallies higher. But experts think at least some are due to lifting stay-at-home orders, school and business closures, and other restrictions put in place during the spring to stem the virus’s spread.
The increase in infections pulled stocks down sharply Thursday on Wall Street, dragging the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than 1,800 points lower and giving the S&P 500 its worst day in nearly three months. The infections deflated recent optimism that the economy could recover quickly from its worst crisis in decades.
The virus is also gradually fanning out.
“It is a disaster that spreads,” said Dr. Jay Butler, who oversees coronavirus response work at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It’s not like there’s an entire continental seismic shift and everyone feels the shaking all at once.”
That is also happening globally. Places that suffered early on such as China, Italy and Spain have calmed down but Brazil, India and other countries that were spared initially are seeing large increases. The world is seeing more than 100,000 newly-confirmed cases every day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The virus first landed on the U.S. coasts, carried by international travelers infected abroad. For months, the epicenter was in northeastern states. More recently, the biggest increases have been in the South and the West.
The AP analyzed data compiled by The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization that collects coronavirus testing data in the United States. The analysis found that in 21 states as of Monday, the rolling seven-day average of new cases per capita was higher than the average seven days earlier.
Some worry the situation may get worse as social distancing restrictions lift and more people gather. One concern is that large recent racial justice protests across the country might spark at least some spread of the virus.