Kerala

Testing time for crematoriums as pandemic deaths go up

Testing times: Insaf Sibil and his fellow volunteers overseeing the cremation of four persons who died of COVID-19 at the West Hill crematorium in Kozhikode.   | Photo Credit: K. RAGESH

Insaf Sibil, a 23-year-old youth from Chakkumkadavu in Kozhikode, is by now inured to the sight of body bags and workers clad in PPE kits cremating the mortal remains of COVID-19 patients. He is part of the city’s trained volunteer group that has come to the aid of the city Corporation at a time when crematoriums are struggling to handle the increasing number of deaths caused by the second wave of the pandemic.

His team under the city Corporation’s health wing has so far supported the last rites of nearly 800 persons. These include confirmed and suspected COVID-19 death cases. In the initial days, there were even bodies brought here from distant locations.

“We are now prepared to handle 15 to 20 cremations or burials a day. There was a very hectic day last week when we cremated 20 bodies with the facilities available at the West Hill and Mavoor Road crematoriums,” says Mr. Sibil, who has been working as volunteer coordinator with the squad. “For us, it continues to be a dawn-to-dusk task now," he adds.

Currently, the cremation is mostly done at the Corporation’s crematoriums at Mavoor and West Hill, though there are 40 public crematoriums in Kozhikode district.

Workers at the crematoriums in the city say they have never seen such a demand for funerals in the past. “For several months, I have been staying away from my parents. It is tough to live in PPE kits. But we have no other option to manage the crisis” says Mr. Sibil.

In recent days, the Kochi Corporation has had to handle a maximum of 19 bodies a day at the eight crematoriums under the civic body. “It was on Monday that we had the highest number after the second wave,” says T.K. Ashraf, chairman of the health standing committee. “But we could manage the situation as the cremation was held at various units,” he adds.

The Corporation has stepped up arrangements to avoid any delay in the conduct of the funeral rites. “We do not have gas furnaces in these eight facilities. The bodies were cremated using wood,” says Mr. Ashraf.

Despite the increase in pandemic deaths, the crematoriums in Kochi city have not yet faced any major stress. “We are managing with the available facilities,” pointed out M. Anilkumar, Mayor.

Siyad Kokker, president of the mahal committee at the Central Juma Masjid, said: “After the pandemic situation took a turn for the worse, at least two bodies are buried daily at the burial ground of the Central Juma Masjid. However, the mahal committees are not facing any stress as we have at least 12 mosques within the city limits having burial grounds.”

The alarming rise in daily deaths during the COVID-19 second wave has prompted the Thiruvananthapuram district administration to avert a potential crisis by roping in crematoriums run by community organisations and directing public crematoriums to be open round the clock.

In the past 10 days alone, the district had reported 167 deaths due to COVID-19. On May 11, District Collector Navjot Khosa directed public crematoriums in the district to be open 24 hours. With 1,166 deaths till Wednesday, Thiruvananthapuram also tops the COVID-19 death toll among Kerala districts. But the district is still far from a crisis situation, say crematorium operators.

Santhikavadam at Thycaud, the lone facility run by the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation, handles approximately 30-32 bodies daily. “ Nearly 99% of the cremations held here now are of COVID-19 deaths,” says S.S. Sujith, charge officer of the crematorium. Non-COVID deaths are redirected to private cremation grounds.

In the last week of April, the crematorium added two gas furnaces to complement its two electric furnaces and four units which use wood. Given the increase in cremations, arrangements have been made with Mokshakavadam, the crematorium run by the SNDP Yogam at Muttathara, and the cremation facility of the Vellala community at Thycaud.


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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 5:29:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/testing-time-for-crematoriums-as-pandemic-deaths-go-up/article34567534.ece

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