Over the past two months, five cremation/burial grounds in the capital have carried out 410 funerals as per the standard operating procedure (SOP) for Covid patients. While nine such grounds have been designated for the final rites of those who either had or were suspected to have Covid, only five have carried out cremations or burials since the rest say they lack space or residents in nearby colonies objected.
According to data provided by standing committee head of the North Corporation Jai Prakash and South Delhi Municipal Corporation Bhupendar Gupta, Nigambodh Ghat has seen 184 such cremations, while the crematorium at Punjabi Bagh has seen 111. The Jadid Qabristan near ITO has seen 105 burials, the Buland Masjid has recorded nine, and Madanpur Khadar has recorded one.
The capital had until Wednesday recorded 106 Covid deaths.
Officials and doctors clarified that a body being cremated or buried in adherence to the Covid SOP, laid down by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), may not necessarily mean the person had coronavirus or died of the disease.
A doctor explained that the emergency wards across the city see patients either being brought dead or dying within a few hours of reaching the hospital. In such cases, if the patient had exhibited any Covid symptoms prior to death, the SOP has to be followed during cremation or burial.
ICMR’s guidelines also state: “Deaths in which tests are awaited with the presence of symptoms will be recorded as suspected deaths, while those testing negative but have symptoms will be mentioned as ‘clinically-epidemiologically diagnosed Covid-19’. “This is because false negative results are not uncommon,” the guidelines state.
The ICMR has also clarified that such suspected Covid-19 deaths need not be treated as medico-legal cases and the “forensic autopsy may be waived off” to limit the possible spread of infection. As per the SOP, healthcare workers have to collect nasopharyngeal swab at the emergency department/casualty/ward/ICU and send it for testing before moving the body to the mortuary for preservation.
Guidelines released by the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Vardhman Mahavir Medical College, Safdarjung Hospital, similarly state: “All departments sending a body with suspected Covid-19 should send it to the mortuary only after taking samples… No body will be accepted at the mortuary if a sample is not taken.”
“If the deceased is a suspected case of Covid, then as per protocol we take samples, and it is up to the family to decide whether they want to wait for test results before the final rites. In most cases, families are deciding to go ahead with the cremation before test results are out,” said Dr D K Sharma, medical superintendent of AIIMS.
The head of the North Corporation standing committee, Jai Prakash, said the difference in numbers was worrrying. “If we do not know the gravity of the problem, how will we solve it. Deaths needs to be reported accurately,” he said.