Gravediggers in India work non-stop as country sets new Covid records

Country continues to set new Covid records, with over 3,600 deaths yesterday

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: India's total Covid-19 cases passed 18 million yesterday after another world record number of daily infections, as gravediggers worked around the clock to bury victims and hundreds more were cremated in makeshift pyres in parks and parking lots.

India reported 379,257 new infections and 3,645 new deaths yesterday, Health Ministry data showed, the highest number of fatalities in a single day since the start of the pandemic.

The world's second most populous nation is in a deep crisis, with hospitals and morgues overwhelmed.

Mumbai gravedigger Sayyed Munir Kamruddin, 52, said he and his colleagues were working non-stop to bury victims.

"I am not scared of Covid-19, I've worked with courage. It is all about courage, not about fear," he said. "This is our only job. Getting the body, removing it from the ambulance and then burying it."

Each day, thousands of Indians search frantically for hospital beds and life-saving oxygen for sick relatives, using social media apps and personal contacts. Hospital beds that become available, especially in intensive care units, are snapped up in minutes.

Hotels and railway coaches have been converted into critical care facilities to make up for the shortage of hospital beds.

India's best hope is to vaccinate its vast population, experts have said, but its inoculation programme is plagued by shortages, confusion and political squabbles.

From Saturday, an estimated 500 million to 600 million Indians will become eligible when the drive is opened to all adults.

Until now, only front-line workers such as medical staff, people over 45 and those with existing illnesses have been given the AstraZeneca shot or Bharat Biotech's home-grown Covaxin.

But even this more modest programme has faltered, with some areas running out of shots and others throwing them away because of a lack of demand, in part because of hesitancy.

"The queues here are so colossal," said Mr Jayanti Vasant as he waited at a busy vaccination centre in Bangalore.

"The people are just fighting among themselves."

Several states have said they do not have enough shots to start vaccinating all over-18s, including Maharashtra and New Delhi, two of the worst-hit areas. But despite this, and even though people have to register on a government app, there may still be a rush at vaccination centres on Saturday.

On Wednesday, when online registration began, more than 13 million people signed up and users complained of technical glitches.

Meanwhile, millions voted in the final phase of a marathon election in India's West Bengal yesterday, despite the record-breaking spike in infections and deaths.

Long queues of voters appeared outside polling booths as temperatures soared.

Many in rural parts of the state failed to observe social distancing rules, with some wearing masks, but others hanging them loosely on their chins or from their ears. - REUTERS, AFP