Coronavirus cremations in India suggest death count possibly 10 times higher
05/03/2021 // Ramon Tomey // Views

The total number of deaths caused by the Wuhan coronavirus in India could be ten times higher than official reports indicate – based on cremations being done there. The grim projection followed India reporting the highest number of daily COVID-19 cases with more than 310,000 new infections. India's new infections and death toll – part of a second Wuhan coronavirus wave – has brought the south Asian country's healthcare system to its knees.

On April 24, India recorded 346,786 new COVID-19 cases – a new record high. Two days earlier on April 22, the Hindu-majority country recorded 314,835 new infections. Both figures surpassed the highest daily case count in the U.S. at 297,430 infections.

Meanwhile, the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare reported 2,074 fatalities on April 22. However, the number of cremations performed in different areas shows a clear discrepancy from that official count.

According to a Financial Times analysis, local news reports indicate that at least 1,833 people perished due to the Wuhan coronavirus based on the number of cremations. Official data paints a different picture however, with just 228 fatalities being recorded. The FT analysis added that such discrepancies in data occurred in various Indian states such as Gujarat in the west, the central state of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh in the north and Bihar in the east.

FT cited one example from its analysis to prove this point. In Gujarat's Jamnagar province, 100 COVID-19 victims were cremated – but only one death was officially recorded.


The cremations of Wuhan coronavirus victims in the south Asian country occurred amid a second wave of infections the country. Medical professionals attribute this wave to "double mutant" and "triple mutant" variants circulating in the nation. These purportedly more infectious strains have brought India's medical system to its knees. (Related: Mutated coronavirus strain in India could kill all efforts at creating a vaccine.)

India initially thought that it had finally triumphed over the pandemic by means of a mass immunization drive. Indians eschewed face masks and social distancing – with unmasked crowds heading to religious festivals, cricket matches and election rallies. But this fervor quickly turned around as infections shot up to record highs and cities instituted lockdowns once more.

Antiviral drugs and oxygen cylinders now worth their weight in gold

Amid the spike in infections, drugs to fight COVID-19 have fallen short – leading to antiviral drugs being sold on a flourishing black market. Oxygen cylinders are also being sold at inflated prices to those most in need of them, if not being looted. The problem has reached the point of oxygen tankers being accompanied by armed escorts when traveling.

Dr. Pankaj Solanki of the Dharamveer Solanki Hospital in New Delhi rushed to an oxygen vendor to reserve sufficient cylinders. The stock would be allocated for 10 COVID-19 patients under intensive care in the facility. Solanki's oxygen stock would only be good for two days, so he has sent out a driver to procure more cylinders.

Thirty-four-year-old Ahmed Abbas shared a similar instance of purchasing an oxygen cylinder at an inflated price. The resident of Lucknow city in Uttar Pradesh said an oxygen supplier charged him 45,000 Indian rupees (US$600) for a cylinder, which is nine times the normal price. Abbas said the supplier "asked [him] to pay in advance and pick it [up] … the next day."

Meanwhile, Pranay Punj described how he desperately searched for remdesivir for his mother – going from pharmacy to pharmacy. The resident of Patna city in Bihar said a pharmacist told him the drug could be found on the black market. The drug seller also offered to source it to Punj for 100,000 Indian rupees (US$1,335) – more than 30 times its usual price. Fortunately, he managed to secure the drug from a relative whose wife died of COVID-19.

Private and government-run hospitals in Delhi have appealed to the central Indian government for additional oxygen and other supplies. The Delhi High Court seconded the hospitals' calls, ordering the government to ensure such supplies were handed out. A report by The Hindu said the high court will not hesitate to punish individuals in case they were found to obstruct the delivery of oxygen supplies. During a special hearing held on April 24, Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli warned those undermining oxygen deliveries: "We will not spare anyone."

In response, the Delhi government said it plans to import 50,000 tons of oxygen. It has set up the special "Oxygen Express" train service to transport much-needed cylinders by rail to hard-hit states. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during an April 20 address that "all efforts are being made" to boost much-needed medical supplies.

Visit to read more news about India's fight against the Wuhan coronavirus.

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