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THE DATA AND THE VISUALS

The recent spike in Delhi’s Covid-19 death toll is still likely a huge underestimation

A mass cremation of victims who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), is seen at a crematorium ground in New Delhi
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
Nonstop.
  • Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

As if scenes from overcrowded hospitals and SOS cries from people struggling to access oxygen and medicines were not enough, now images from New Delhi’s cremation grounds and graveyards are reflecting how bad things on the ground really are.

The national capital, which posted low single-digit daily Covid-19 deaths for most of March, has seen a sharp increase in fatality rates over the last couple of weeks. On April 22, the city clocked 306 such deaths, according to government data.

Since March 1, Delhi has seen over 2,284 Covid-related deaths, as per official data.

There are fears that this tally may rise sharply in the coming weeks as the healthcare infrastructure in Delhi has been under stress for the last several days with thousands of new cases being reported on a daily basis. While India is witnessing its second wave of Covid-19, this is the fourth such spike in Delhi.

The city’s most renowned private hospital chains such as Max and Apollo have been scrambling for oxygen supplies every few hours. At another big-name hospital Fortis, oxygen requirement increased by almost three times since last week but the hospital was receiving less than a day’s supply at a time. Smaller hospitals, too, are asking patients to leave and some have stopped admissions because they’re running out of oxygen.

Delhi’s Covid-19 death numbers

Despite showing a steady spike in deaths, the official figures are likely a drop in the ocean.

In April-May 2020, nearly three-quarters of Delhi’s Covid deaths went unreported, according to an estimate by mathematician Murad Banaji. And though the state adjusted some backlog of the fatalities later, the data likely remained incomplete.

There are worries that the same may repeat.

For instance, on April 20, Delhi reported 277 deaths but statistics shared by three municipal agencies showed that that 410 funerals had taken place in the city until 6 pm that day. Some of the discrepancy may stem from municipalities accounting for deaths in neighbouring places outside of Delhi, but the overall lack of data transparency makes these figures hard to corroborate.

In recent days, the situation has reportedly become beyond dire as mortuaries have been forced to hold on to bodies amid non-stop cremations. The funeral staff in the city has been stretched thin working 14-hour shifts even without sufficient protective gear. Burial grounds have had to dig more graves, and families have waited in line for hours to perform the final rites of the deceased.

At Nigambodh Ghat, the capital’s largest cremation facility where cremations have reportedly gone up from 3-4 daily earlier in April to 30-40 by now, last week feared it’ll run out of space and started building platforms to make more room for pyres.

In these desperate times, some are even resorting to mass cremations. On April 22, 60 bodies were cremated at a makeshift site in a parking lot, while 15 more waited.

Haunting images of a mass cremation site in Delhi by Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui show a glimpse of this nightmare citizens are living through right now:

Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
A man prepares a funeral pyre to cremate the body of a person, who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a crematorium ground in New Delhi, India, April 22, 2021. 
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
Funeral pyres of people, who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), are pictured at a crematorium ground in New Delhi, India, April 22, 2021. 
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
Relatives prepare to cremate the body of a person, who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a crematorium ground in New Delhi, India, April 22, 2021. 
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
Relatives stand next to the burning funeral pyre of a person, who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a crematorium ground in New Delhi, India, April 22, 2021.
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
A mass cremation of victims who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), is seen at a crematorium ground in New Delhi, India, April 22, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. 
Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
A man walks past burning funeral pyres of people, who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a crematorium ground in New Delhi, India, April 22, 2021.

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