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Officially, only 8 died of Covid in Gurugram in 2 days, but crematoriums handle over 100 such bodies

The health department in Gurugram reported four Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday and four more on Wednesday, but cremation ground staff say they have performed the last rites of at least 106 bodies, as per Covid-19 protocols, over the past two days(till 10pm Wednesday)
By Leena Dhankhar and Archana Mishra, Gurugram
UPDATED ON APR 21, 2021 11:39 PM IST

The health department in Gurugram reported four Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday and four more on Wednesday, but cremation ground staff say they have performed the last rites of at least 106 bodies, as per Covid-19 protocols, over the past two days(till 10pm Wednesday). While a few of these bodies were sent from Ghaziabad and Delhi, a majority of them are from Gurugram, the staffers said.

The crematorium records, accessed by Hindustan Times, show that the Sector 32 crematorium alone recorded 17 and 40 Covid-19 deaths of city residents on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, while the Madanpuri crematorium recorded 23 and 26 Covid-19 deaths, respectively, over the past two days.

According to the health department data, however, 13 deaths were reported in the past three days from Gurugram, including five on Monday.

Sandeep Sharma, the in-charge of Mokshdham cremation ground in Sector 32, said, “Over 45 bodies arrived within the past 12 hours (from Wednesday noon). Of these, 40 were of Covid-19 deaths from Gurugram. The others were from Ghaziabad and New Delhi. In the past four days, the count of bodies has increased and we have been cremating bodies till 11 in the night.”

“We fill all details of the deceased and follow protocols set by the Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG). All bodies of Covid-19 deaths cremated here are recorded,” he said.

Sharma said they receive at least eight to 10 calls daily from people informing them of Covid-19 deaths at home and enquiring about funeral proceedings. In some cases, the Covid-19 test reports are awaited, but cremation is done as per Covid-19 protocols. Such cases are not recorded as Covid deaths, he said.

Officials of the health department attributed the discrepancy in numbers to differences in protocols followed by the MCG. The health department data shows that 31 deaths were recorded in the district from April 1 to 21.

Dr Virender Yadav, chief medical officer, Gurugram, said, “Only those deaths confirmed by hospitals as Covid-19 are shown as official in the health department bulletin. The crematorium data comes under the MCG.”

However, officials of the MCG said their data is based on hospital reports.

Ashish Singla, chief medical officer (CMO), MCG, said, “We collect death summary and Covid-19 positive reports. We are not aware why the data of the health department is not matching with crematoria data. We are collecting our data on a daily basis.”

The city has three Covid-19 cremation grounds at Sector 32, Sukhrali village near Atul Kataria Chowk, and Madan Puri near Pataudi Chowk, while three burial grounds have been earmarked in Sector 58 near the Power House, Sector 58 near Ghata village, and Badshahpur village.

Singla said they presently have two dedicated ambulances for transporting Covid-19 bodies to crematoriums from hospitals and that two more vehicles will be addedto handle the surge. “The two ambulances are transporting over 30 Covid-19 bodies daily. Before handing over the bodies to the ambulance drivers, the hospital staff issue death summary and Covid-19 positive reports and these are duly handed over to the crematorium staff,” he said.

Amit Kumar (33), a private ambulance driver for the past 10 years, said on average, he is transporting two Covid-19 bodies to cremation grounds daily. “I have never seen this kind of rush. There is no space to even park vehicles and bodies are lined up on platforms,” he said.

A spot check by an HT team at the Madanpuri cremation ground found that bodies were lined up on all 26 cremation platforms, of which two are electric. Grieving kin in PPE overalls stood at a distance and watched as MCG workers placed the bodies on pyres.

A team of four workers prepared one pyre after another, as ambulances kept arriving without a break. “The rush has been ongoing for days. Families are not allowed to come near the body. The family member who has to perform the last rites lights the torch. But it is the MCG worker who puts the torch to the pyre,” said Vinod Kumar, who has been working 12-hour shifts at the electric crematorium since the pandemic started.

“Every day, over 30 bodies of Covid-19 patients arrive here for last rites,” he said.

It is in the last week that hospitalisation has increased dramatically from at least 171 on April 1 to 806 on Wednesday, stretching the existing health infrastructure to saturation point. The situation is constantly deteriorating due to a record surge in daily new infections.

Gurugam on Wednesday reported 2,988 new infections, the highest single-day spike since the outbreak of the pandemic. The total number of cases now stands at 88,866, of which 16,027 are active.

Families of Covid-19 victims continued to opt for last rites instead of electric cremations, even as protocols state that electric cremations should be preferred to avoid the spread of infection. “There are only two electric furnaces, but most of the people refuse an electric cremation. Since rituals take time, there is a waiting time of at least an hour for a cremation on platforms,” said Kumar.

The teams performing last rites have undergone basic training on sanitising the body, covering it in a transparent, protective sheet even as families watch from a distance. MCG officials said the ashes are handed over to the family later.

Singla said the ambulances are thoroughly disinfected with isopropyl alcohol hydrochloride upon returning to the MCG’s health branch office in Sector 39, where the vehicles are stationed. “To ensure there is no contact with the driver, each ambulance has two compartments, separating the space where the body is kept from the driver,” he said.

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