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Officials slog, crematoriums work round-the-clock in Rajkot

After Ahmedabad and Surat, now Rajkot has emerged as a new hotspot of Covid-19 infection.

Written by Gopal B Kateshiya | Rajkot |
Updated: September 10, 2020 1:47:22 pm
A relative pays her last respect to a family member who died after contracting Covid-19, in Rajkot. (Picture Courtesy: Information Department, Gujarat)

ON WEDNESDAY morning, a sanitary inspector in PPE suit made frequent visits to a cabin behind an acrylic wall in the dedicated Covid-19 hospital functioning out of the super specialty block of the state government-run Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Hospital in Rajkot. Each time he would carry plastic bags meant for packing bodies of Covid victims.

Outside the cabin, relatives occasionally peered through the window, asking in low voice about when they would be able to see the mortal remains of their loved ones. An officer and two sanitary inspectors (SIs) in the cabin ask them to wait, and say they had too many bodies to handle for the day.

Around 8.30 pm, two of the four bodies brought from the Covid-19 hospital are queued up at Ramnathpara crematorium. “We have two electric furnaces and one gas furnace. But the gas furnace is malfunctioning. Therefore, we just have the electric ones. It takes two hours to cremate one body… We have already cremated 17 bodies today and most of them were of Covid patients,” said Kalyan Gadhvi, a furnace operator.

Dinesh Rathod, another furnace operator, says his workload has increased three-fold. “Till lockdown, we would have four to five cremations every day. But for the past one-and-a-half months, the daily count went up to around 10. Over the past two weeks, it is around 15 to 20. We are operating our furnaces round-the-clock,” says Rathod.

The official bulletin from the Rajkot district showed 26 deaths reported till 8 am Wednesday in Covid hospitals, while the state bulletin showed two Covid deaths in Rajkot on Wednesday. Authorities have explained this mismatch saying deaths are declared as Covid deaths only after an audit.

After Ahmedabad and Surat, now Rajkot has emerged as a new hotspot of Covid-19 infection. Rajkot city recorded 167 confirmed cases till June 30 and the number was 114 for Rajkot rural district. Deaths were six and three respectively.

Since July, cases started surging and shot up to 1,173 and 659 in city and district respectively. Number of deaths reported in Covid hospitals jumped to 74. In August, the number of cases was 3,220 for the city and 1,561 for the district, with 303 deaths in Covid hospitals.

By September 9, cases in city and district were 4,054 and 1,969 respectively. At least 154 Covid patients died in nine days of this month.

As the situation turned for the worse, Principal Secretary (Health and Family Welfare), Jayanti Ravi was sent to camp in Rajkot 10 days ago. She has been conducting meetings with health officers and officers of the district administration every day on the PDU Hospital campus.

From a window in the cabin, a relative complains: “I have been waiting for long… you are not telling me when we will get the body to perform the last rites…”

“Please, have some patience. I have 48 bodies to handle today,” replies the officer from the other side of the wall. The job of the three handling bodies in the Covid hospital has grown at least three-fold since July.

“I understand… please give us an update, at least,” the man at the window pleads.

After making couple of phone calls, the officer tells the man, “An ambulance will be ready in a few minutes. We will call you as soon as the body is kept in it,” says the official and the man plods away.

The officer then turns to one of the two sanitary inspectors (SI) in the cabin. “How many men do you have today? I hope you understand it is going out of control now. One patient died at 5 pm yesterday and the body is still lying there. It has been 18 hours…”

One of the SIs says, “Pela panch Godhariya chhe (those five from Godhra are there)”, referring to assistants brought in from  Godhra in Panchmahal district, to work in the Covid hospital.

The officer asks the SIs to call all five.  “If you are short of ambulances, carry three or four bodies in one ambulance. But please, hurry up. We cannot make relatives wait endlessly,” the officer directs the SIs, adding, “At the most, they would suspend me. But how am I to work without staff?”

Dr Pankaj Buch, medical superintendent of PDU Hospital, did not attend calls or reply to text messages.

Rajkot has been recording more than 100 fresh cases per day for the past one week. The PDU Hospital is also the nodal Covid hospital for Morbi and Surendranagar districts. Till Tuesday evening, there were 1880 active cases in the district. So far, 104 patients died due to Covid-19, government data after death audits shows.

Hospitals are required to perform last rites of every person dying in Covid hospital as per norms, with relatives allowed to pay their last respects from a distance. The PDU Hospital takes up to two relatives per victim in an ambulance. The ambulance trails the ambulance in which bodies are carried to crematoria or burial grounds. Sources said that the PDU Hospital has six ambulances for the purpose.

Last rites are performed at five crematoria in Ramnathpara, Bapunagar, 80 Feet Road, Mavdi and Mota Mava in the city where the bodies are consigned to electric or gas furnaces.

“After a casualty is announced, usually, it takes around two hours to finish the paper work, pack the body and place it in an ambulance. The load has increased over the past two weeks. There is waiting at the crematoria also… bodies are released from hospital only when a window is available at the crematorium,” said a source.

In between answering queries, the officer gulps down mango juice from a tetra pack. In the meantime, a young man turns up at the window and passes a bunch of papers. The officer examines them and asks, “How many ambulances do you have?”

The man says, “three”.

“You will have to keep them available here round-the-clock with drivers,” the officer tells the man who nods approvingly.

A woman gives the name of a patient who died and asks about her belongings. The officer opens a cabinet, picks up a sealed plastic bag bearing sticker with details of patients and hands it over to the woman.

A while later, two middle-aged men, their shoulders drooped, approach the window and ask, “How long will it take, Sir?” The officer says, around an hour.

“Hope we won’t have to wait at the crematorium also,” they say as the officer assures them that won’t be the case.

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