June 1, 2020 / 1:42 PM / a month ago

Relatives queue to cremate coronavirus dead in India's capital

Health workers wait to unload a body of a man who died due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) before his cremation at the Nigambodh Ghat crematorium in New Delhi, India, June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - A queue of ambulances formed outside the main crematorium in India’s capital New Delhi on Monday, as the number of deaths from the novel coronavirus continues to rise.

Cases in the country crossed 190,000, the health ministry said on Monday, overtaking France to become seventh highest in the world, as the government eases back on most curbs after a two-month lockdown that left millions without work. There have been more than 5,000 deaths.

At Nigambodh Ghat on the banks of the Yamuna River, relatives and staff said a shortage of medical professionals trained in handling the bodies of victims was leading to delays.

Ash floated from the funeral pyres, adding to the heat of the Indian summer, where temperatures in Delhi have already reached 47 degrees Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit).

Surendra Mohan Gupta, the brother of 50-year-old coronavirus victim Virendra Gupta, said his family had paid 20,000 Indian rupees ($265) to a private ambulance firm.

“It’s very expensive but we are still waiting for them,” he said, as other family members argued with crematorium staff over the delay.

“The body has to stay in the ambulance until our number is called. Sometimes I have to wait for almost five hours,” said ambulance driver Jai Kumar, sweat pooling in his surgical gloves.

The Hindustan Times newspaper reported on May 28 the crematorium had to send eight bodies back to a hospital after several of its electric furnaces failed.

It has since moved to traditional wooden pyres and is now handling around 20 cases a day, officials said on Monday.

Reporting by Alasdair Pal in New Delhi; Editing by Alex Richardson

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