Agence France-Presse has this despatch from the graveyards of India, where it reports that the workload for gravediggers has grown dramatically in the past few weeks in a brutal second wave that has caught authorities badly off guard.
When reporters visited the Jadid Qabristan Ahle cemetery in the Indian capital – which is in a week-long lockdown – on Friday, 11 bodies arrived within three hours.
By sunset, 20 bodies were in the ground. This compares with some days in December and January, when Mohammed Shamim’s earthmoving machine stayed idle and when many thought the pandemic was over.
“Now, it looks like the virus has legs,” Shamim, 38, told AFP. “At this rate, I will run out of space in three or four days.”
Last year Shamim told reporters: “I’ve been burying the dead for the last two decades. But until now, I’ve never been scared for my own life.”
Around the graveyard, white body bags or coffins made out of cheap wood are carried around by people in blue or yellow protective suits and lowered into graves.
Small groups of men, some in Islamic skullcaps, look solemnly at the ground as the imam, struggling to be heard as dust laced with rain swirls around, recites final prayers.
Sobbing women watch from their closed car windows next to the flashing lights of an ambulance as a yellow digger fills up the graves with the dry brown and grey soil.
“Two days ago someone came to me and said he needs to start preparing for his mother because doctors had given up on her,” Shamim said. “It’s unreal. I never thought I’d see the day where I’d have a request for starting the funeral formalities of a living person.”
Officially, almost 180,000 Indians have died from coronavirus, 15,000 of them this month, although some believe the real number may be higher. Social media and newspaper reports have been flooded with horrifying images of row upon row of burning pyres and crematoriums unable to cope.
In Ghaziabad, outside Delhi, television pictures showed bodies wrapped in shrouds lined up on biers on the pavement with weeping relatives waiting for their slot.
In the western state of Gujarat, many crematoriums in Surat, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Ahmedabad are operating around the clock with three to four times more bodies than normal.
The chimney of one electric furnace in Ahmedabad cracked and collapsed after being in constant use for up to 20 hours every day for the past two weeks. The iron frames inside another in the industrial diamond hub of Surat melted because there was no time to let the furnaces cool.
“Until last month we were cremating 20-odd bodies per day … But since the beginning of April we have been handling over 80 bodies every day,” said a local official at the Ramnath Ghela Crematorium in the city.