Non-COVID bodies being turned away

Grieving families at Punjabi Bagh cremation ground report chaos, social distancing goes for a toss

A large crowd of grieving families waited outside the Punjabi Bagh cremation ground on Friday to perform the last rites of their loved ones, some of whom had died of COVID-19.

At noon, however, the cremation ground workers shut the main gate and informed: “Ab normal bodies nahin lenge. Sirf COVID bodies lenge (We will not take bodies of those who have died of natural causes now)”.

Long wait

When the families — some of whom had been waiting for up to six hours — raised objections, another employee informed that they were merely following the new protocol introduced to cope with the sudden surge in deaths due to COVID-19.

As many as 1,541 people have died due to the virus in the last week, according to official data.

Deepak Kumar, 27, a resident of Mahatma Gandhi camp, had come to attend the last rites of his friend’s father. “We had come around 10 a.m. but they did not move the body till 1 p.m. They are collecting all the bodies and then cremating them in one go on separate pyres,” he said.

The father had died of a heart attack, said Mr. Kumar, who was sitting with six friends. “There is no check on the number of people coming in with a body”.

Roughly 15-16 bodies of people who have died of natural causes are cremated here daily, said workers.

No check on crowd

Mukesh Gupta, who had come for the cremation of his paternal uncle, complained no one was following social distancing rules.

Many people were also seen not wearing masks.

Pointing towards a large crowd of people trying to submit relevant documents to get a cremation token, Mr. Gupta said: “There is total chaos. My uncle died of a heart attack. We had come here at 7.30 a.m. but the token counter did not open till 10 a.m. It has been six hours and it is only now that they are starting the process.”

One side of the cremation ground has been reserved for burning COVID-infected bodies. “But there are so many people here, there is no separation between the place where normal bodies are being burnt and the infected bodies are being processed,” said Mr. Gupta.

Vijay, who had brought his brother-in-law’s body from a government hospital in Moti Nagar, said he has been running from pillar to post to get the body cremated.

“We took him to a government hospital where they said they don’t have an oxygen bed. When we got our own cylinder, they would not let use it. They kept asking us to leave and take the patient away. This morning, he died waiting,” he said, adding that the hospital gave them a discharge slip.

Necessary documents

At the cremation ground, he was asked for a COVID-19 report, which he didn’t have.

“They are saying that the hospital should give in writing whether the person has died of COVID-19 or not. The employees are also saying that we need to get a token by 1 p.m. or else the cremation will not be performed the same day,” he said.

Munish Awasthi, who had come to cremate his friend Arvind Semwal, said they had completed hospital formalities by Thursday afternoon. Mr. Semwal, 36, an employee of the Archaeological Survey of India, had died of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

“When we arrived at the cremation ground around 3 p.m. on Thursday, they informed us that the last rites could not be performed and asked us to come at 9.30 a.m. on Friday. We waited for four hours on Friday before we could cremate the body,” he said.

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