COVID-19: Telangana urged to extend crematorium timings as death toll rises

Hyderabad: With more and more people falling victim to COVID-19 and relatives of the deceased not finding a place to keep the dead bodies over night, Hyderabad Member of Parliament Asaduddin Owaisi has urged the Telangana government to extend the timings of crematoriums.

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Presently, they work from 7am to 6pm and some till 7pm. In a SOS to the senior minister K Taraka Rama Rao, Owaisi said that in view of larger number of bodies the timings of crematoriums should be extended beyond 7pm throughout the state.

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Social activists say that not only the death toll was very high but the kith and kin of the deceased were also not coming forward to perform the last rites due to the fear of infection and leaving it to the NGOs.

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Confusion over figures

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According to an official press release 29 people died due to COVID-19 in the state during the last 24 hours ending Friday evening. But calculations by the local media show that in two biggest hospitals of the state capital Telangana Institute of Medical Sciences and Gandhi Hospital alone 80 to 100 people died on a single day on Friday.

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Clarifying the confusion over the figures, a senior doctor at the Gandhi Hospital said that not all deaths are attributed to COVID-19 because many are caused by comorbidities.

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Whatever the official cause of death, the number of dead bodies coming to cremation grounds and the grave yards were unusually high and the families were founding it a big challenge to perform the last rites.

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Even members of Muslim community were forced to run from one corner to the other as grave yard caretakers say there was no open space for any more burials.

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With the authorities at the crematoriums refusing to accept the bodies after 6 or 7pm, and hospitals pressurizing the families to take the bodies away immediately, the grieving families were caught in the middle. It has become a heart breaking challenge as the families were not in a position to take the bodies home because of resistance from the neighborhood and in some cases family members themselves were afraid of infection.

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While private hospitals were unwilling to keep the bodies because of the space constraint, even a hospital like Gandhi was also expressing its inability to preserve the bodies due to lack of space. “This is an unprecedented situation”, said K Sai Teja, of an NGO Feed the Needy.

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In many cases where the near and dear ones of the deceased were abroad, NGOs were receiving requests to perform the last rites.

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Costly affair

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Preserving the bodies over night was also proving a costly affair. “In one case we had to hire an ambulance and preserve body of COVID-19 victim over night. It cost us Rs 32,000”, Sai Teja said.

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In some heart rending cases social activists had to step in to perform the last rites as family members refused to touch the body due to stigma. The problems were more complicated in districts and rural areas.

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In Jagatiya district Sarpanch of Madhapur village sought help of a Muslim NGO Immadutal Muslim Youth Association for the last rites of a Hindu woman as there was nobody to ready to do it. “We performed the rites as per Hindu religion as the victim was from the community”, said Association President Wajid Khan.

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During last 15 days the Association performed 45 such funerals in different villages of the district. In Tandur near Hyderabad local youth performed two funerals in the same manner.

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