A thick pall of smoke from rows of burning pyres hanging over groups of grieving relatives, a line of hearses, and piles of cremation wood by the roadside – this was Bhainsakund crematorium in Lucknow district on Friday.
The district has reported more than 5,000 daily new cases over the past several days; the active caseload crossed 40,000 on Friday.
There have been complaints about the unavailability of oxygen and hospital beds, black marketing of drugs like remdesivir and fabiflu, and about private labs refusing RT-PCR tests.
“We have made all arrangements for proper and safe cremation of Covid bodies using both the electric crematorium and wood pyres. For Covid bodies, there is a separate area which is properly barricaded… On average we are getting more than 50 bodies each day for last around two weeks; earlier we used to handle 10-15 bodies on a normal day,” Lucknow Municipal Commissioner Ajay Dwivedi said during an inspection of the crematorium on Friday evening.
An official at the Aishbagh Muslim graveyard told The Indian Express that a total 328 burials had taken place since April 1, of which 24 were of people who had died of Covid.
“The number of recorded Covid-19 deaths is very low. Not everyone goes to hospitals. Those who die at home are often not tested, and their deaths do not show up as Covid deaths,” the official said.
Abdul Mateen, who is responsible registering burials at the graveyard, said: “Earlier, we used to get five-six bodies per day. Now the number is somewhere between 25 and 40. On Thursday, a total 39 bodies were buried. On Friday, 28 burials had taken place until 5 pm.”
None of the five private laboratories across Lucknow that The Indian Express contacted on Friday agreed to test for the virus.
Dr Bandana Mehrotra, MD Pathology and Microbiology at Lucknow’s RML Laboratory, said an estimated 75-80 per cent of samples had been returning positive for the past few days. A severe shortage of manpower had forced the lab to accept no more than one out of four requests for tests, she said.
“We are doing home sample collections, but it has been difficult. We have not been able to send representatives to most people… There is a major crunch of manpower as many of our personnel have tested positive. The demand for tests has gone up massively, while the number of personnel has gone down. We are doing everything to provide reports in 24 hours,” Dr Mehrotra said.
For the past several days, patients and attendants have been running from pillar to post for Covid beds.
At King George Medical University, the biggest Covid treatment facility in the state, hospital staff said there was a scarcity of beds, and most patients were having to wait for days. An official at the registration counter of KGMU’s Trauma Centre said that for the last couple of days, more than 50 patients had been queuing up for each bed.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had directed on Wednesday that patients in home isolation should be admitted to hospital only on the recommendation of a doctor. A day later, the CM had directed authorities to increase the number of dedicated Covid hospitals in Lucknow, and to prepare to make KGMU and Balrampur hospitals full Covid facilities.
Authorities at KGMU said the hospital will turn Covid-only by Monday, and all non-Covid emergencies except in cardiology and obstetrics will be directed to other government hospitals in the city. KGMU spokesperson Sudhir Singh said the hospital was expected to ramp up its Covid bed capacity from 520 at present to 3,000 by Monday.
On Thursday morning, the 64-year-old wife of a retired district judge died after the couple tested positive on Wednesday. A letter written by the judge, which has gone viral on social media, reads, “…Since yesterday (Wednesday) morning, I have called the administration many times on numbers provided, but nobody came to give medicines nor was the process for admission to hospital started. Because of administration’s laxity, my wife died. Currently, there is no one to pick up the dead body. Please help me.”