Bodies of COVID-19 victims have been found dumped in some Indian rivers, a state government letter seen by Reuters says, in the first official acknowledgement of the alarming practice, which it said may stem from poverty and fear of the disease in remote areas.
Images of corpses drifting down the Ganges river, which is considered holy in Hinduism, have shocked the country, reeling under the world’s worst surge in COVID-19 cases.
Although media reports have linked the increase in the number of bodies found floating in the river and its tributaries in recent days to the pandemic, India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 240 million people, has until now not publicly revealed the cause of the deaths.
“The administration has information that bodies of those who have succumbed to COVID-19 or any other disease are being thrown into rivers instead of being disposed of as per proper rituals,” a senior state official, Manoj Kumar Singh, said in a letter dated May 14 to district heads that was reviewed by Reuters.
“As a result, bodies have been recovered from rivers in many places.”
Singh was not immediately reachable for comment.
The acknowledgment comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday called on officials to strengthen healthcare resources in rural areas and step up surveillance as the virus spreads rapidly in those areas after ravaging the cities.
Uttar Pradesh, home to more people than Brazil or Pakistan, has been badly hit by India’s dramatic second surge in COVID-19 cases. Health experts say many cases are now going undetected in the villages of Uttar Pradesh, where most of its people live.
Singh in the memo to district heads said a lack of funds to buy materials like firewood for cremation, religious beliefs in some communities, and families abandoning COVID-19 victims for fear of the disease, were among the likely reasons for the surge in body dumpings.
He asked village-level officials to ensure no corpses are thrown into water and said the state government would pay poor families of the dead 5,000 rupees ($68) each to cremate or bury bodies. The state has also asked police to patrol rivers to stop the practice.
India has been officially reporting around 4,000 deaths each day from the disease for nearly two weeks, but health experts say the toll is likely much higher due to poor testing in rural areas and other factors.
The jump in deaths has in many places led to backlogs at crematoriums and multiplied the cost of last rites.
Uttar Pradesh spokesman Navneet Sehgal on Saturday denied local media reports that as many as 2,000 corpses of potential COVID-19 victims had been recovered from rivers in the state and neighboring Bihar in recent days.
“We keep recovering 10 to 20 bodies every now and then,” Sehgal told Reuters, adding that some riverside villages did not cremate their dead due to Hindu traditions during some periods of religious significance.
Bihar officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Supply of COVID-19 drug remdesivir catching up with demand in India: CiplaIndia’s Cipla said on Saturday that its manufacturing of the COVID-19 remdesivir drug was beginning to catch up with demand after the company sought ... Coronavirus
Italian study shows COVID-19 infections, deaths plummeting after jabsCOVID-19 infections in adults of all ages fell by 80 percent five weeks after a first dose of Pfizer , Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccine, according to ... Coronavirus
Number of COVID-19 intensive care patients in France falls againFrance reported 4,271 people in intensive care units with COVID-19 on Saturday, 81 fewer than on Friday, the 12th consecutive day that this key metric ... Coronavirus