Vijayawada: With COVID-19 deaths occurring in the dozens in Andhra Pradesh now, mortuaries may soon run out of space. Forty-two people died of the virus in the 24 hours prior to Friday evening. And as the number of deaths rises, health authorities are finding it tough to cremate the bodies due to stiff resistance from local people, especially in rural areas.
Soon after a coronavirus infected person dies, health authorities alert the revenue, police, municipal or gram panchayat officers who cremate the body as per the COVID-19 protocol.
However, since there is lack of awareness among villagers that the virus does not spread if the requisite precautions are taken, cremation workers face stiff resistance. At times, this forces the authorities to look for alternative places to cremate the bodies.
As the authorities have to get confirmation of the place of cremation before the bodies can be moved out of the mortuaries, they remain on the racks of deep freezers in the mortuaries, sometimes for several days.
Aggrieved family members are helpless. They can only wait to perform the last rites until the authorities manage to find some place to cremate the bodies.
Government area hospitals, district hospitals and medical colleges maintain mortuaries to preserve dead bodies prior to post-mortem examinations in medical-legal cases. According to an estimate, Andhra Pradesh has the capacity to preserve 400 dead bodies in mortuaries at one time. If this capacity runs out, bodies have to be placed outside the mortuary.
There are other complications too, such a when a case of unnatural death--suicide, murder or accidents--tests positive for coronavirus. The Andhra Pradesh government has made it mandatory to conduct a COVID-19 test on all bodies before conducting a post-mortem procedure. Doctors have come up against 11 cases of Covid-19 positive test results in medico-legal cases.
When a body involved in a medico-legal case arrives, hospital staff collect a swab sample and conduct a Covid-19 test. Until the result is out, the body has to be preserved in the mortuary. Once the result is out, a post-mortem operation has to be conducted and only then can the family have it for cremation.
Mortuary staff said the number of dead bodies arriving in mortuaries is expected to go up in the days ahead.
A government forensic specialist said, "The state government should seriously address this issue. We suggest that the government set up at least one electric crematorium in each district so that all Covid-19- infected dead bodies can be disposed with dignity and no one can resist such a practice."