With a gradual spike in daily Covid-19 deaths in Mumbai, the waiting time at major cremation centres, like the Shivaji Park crematorium, has increased substantially.
Over the last few days, the number of people dying due to the virus in Mumbai has increased from an average of 30 to 35 to 40 to 50 a day. This has meant a longer wait at most crematoriums with the relatives and friends of the deceased having to wait for up to six hours to perform the last rites of their loved ones.
On Thursday, clad in personal protective equipment (PPE), Raja Praja Pati, a helper in a private ambulance, waited from 1 pm to 4 pm for his turn at Shivaji crematorium. He had transported a woman from Hinduja hospital. Already, bodies from Nair and KEM hospital were in queue ahead of him.
Ten minutes after Pati, ambulance driver Salauddin Ansari reached the crematorium with another body from Hinduja hospital. His turn came by 6 pm. “We cannot leave the body and drive away. We have to place the body on the electric furnace,” Ansari said.
All this time, the families of the deceased wait outside.
As per BMC guidelines, the last rites of Covid-19 patients can only be conducted at electric crematoriums. The Shivaji Park crematorium has two electric furnaces, each taking two hours to dispose a body, followed by half an hour to cool the furnace and disinfect it.
The crematorium receives bodies from PD Hinduja, Sushruta, KEM, Nair and SL Raheja hospitals. Worker Narayan Gohil said they receive 20 to 24 bodies a day. “Until June, we were getting 40 bodies in a day… back then the queue would go a long way down the road,” he said.
Till June, Mumbai was recording around 100 to 150 Covid-19 deaths per day. By August, the daily count had come down, but it has started rising again from September 1.
Suraj Bhogde, also an ambulance helper, said he has to wait in PPE for hours with the body. “Sometimes, we reach here in the morning and our turn comes in the evening,” he added.
The Bhoiwada crematorium, which receives bodies from KEM and Nair hospitals, has been shut since September 14 after its chimney broke down. In a day, the crematorium received 20 bodies, which are now being diverted to Worli, Shivaji Park, Reay road, Sion and Chandanwadi crematoriums.
“Even here, we had a queue of bodies. The load has reduced since June but a Covid-19 body takes longer to cremate. We have to disinfect and follow strict protocol of donning and doffing PPE,” said Manohar Kochrekar, housekeeper at Bhoiwada crematorium.
In Worli crematorium, with two electric furnaces, there is currently no wait time. It receives seven to eight bodies a day. “We have 10 staffers. We don’t allow families to come close. Since the body is sealed in a bag, we just have to load it on the electric furnace’s platform,” operator Ganesh Sawant said.
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