India’s spreading coronavirus crisis is most visceral in overcrowded cemeteries and crematoria as bright, glowing pyres light up the night skies in the hardest hit cities.
Outside of crematoriums in cities like the capital New Delhi, where most cases currently occur on a daily basis, ambulance after ambulance waits in line to cremate the dead.
Delhi has cremated so many bodies that authorities have been ordered to cut trees in city parks to set fire to as a record spike in COVID-19 cremates India’s ragged healthcare system.
The nation of nearly 1.4 billion people set a global record of new infections every day for the fifth consecutive year on Monday. The 352,991 new cases have surpassed India’s total of over 17 million, just behind the United States.
The death toll rose 2,812 in the past 24 hours, resulting in 195,123 deaths, the Ministry of Health said, although it is believed to be a huge shortfall.
The gravedigger at New Delhi’s largest Muslim cemetery, where 1,000 people were buried during the pandemic, said more bodies are arriving than last year.
“I’m afraid we will run out of space very soon,” said Mohammad Shameem.
In downtown Bhopal, some crematoria have increased their capacity from dozens of pyrenees to over 50. However, there are still hours of waiting.
At the city’s Bhadbhada Vishram Ghat crematorium, workers said they cremated more than 110 people on Saturday, despite government figures in the city of 1.8 million people put the total virus deaths at just 10.
“The virus is swallowing people in our city like a monster,” said Mamtesh Sharma, a local official.
The unprecedented onslaught of bodies has forced the crematorium to skip the individual ceremonies and exhausting rituals that Hindus believe will free the soul from the cycle of rebirth.
“We only burn bodies when they arrive,” said Sharma. “It’s like we’re in the middle of a war.”
One woman mourned her younger brother at the age of 50. He was turned away from two hospitals and died waiting to be seen at a third. He gasped when his oxygen tank was empty and there were no more replacements.
She blamed the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the crisis. “He set stakes on fire in every house,” she exclaimed in a video shot by The Caravan magazine.