If last week was a bad week for India, this week might be even worse.

First we had news of 184,000 new cases recorded on a single day on Wednesday - a figure reported to be the highest single day rise of any country since the pandemic began.

More than 1 million cases were recorded in a week and on Wednesday India's daily death toll passed 1000 for the first time since mid-October.

It is bad timing to host the world's largest religious festival on the banks of the River Ganges but the mostly maskless crowd packed the shore regardless for pictures that were beamed around the world.

But as the country grapples with control of the virus, a scandal is emerging that goes to the very top in India's handling of the pandemic.


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On Wednesday, local news reports and footage emerged from what is alleged to be mass corpse burning in the central Indian city of Bhopal.

India Today reports that "the number of deceased COVID-19 patients who are being cremated or buried in Bhopal city is far higher than what the official records have been stating over the past days".

The report continues: "The cremation grounds in Bhopal that would see about 5-10 bodies being brought earlier are now seeing 35-40 bodies on a daily basis.

"While the government has called most of these suspected cases of COVID-19, the Opposition has said it's a tactic to hide the real figures."

The publication claims that a total of 187 bodies were cremated at the two sites between Thursday and Sunday despite the official death toll for the region being just five.



Harvard epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding called the situation "extremely worrisome" in a thread on Twitter.

"Deaths being suppressed," he wrote. "At the 2 crematoriums in Bhopal, 187 bodies were cremated following Covid protocols in 4 days - all while official death toll remained at just 5."

It comes as hundreds of people tested positive at the site of the world's biggest religious festival.

The virus was detected in more than 1000 people in just 48 hours in the city of Haridwar, which lies along the holy river where the Kumbh Mela festival is being observed, officials said.

A new wave of coronavirus infections is sweeping across India, with experts blaming massive religious events, packed political rallies in poll-bound states and crowded public places.

The government on Wednesday postponed high school exams for 15- to 18-year-olds, which were to be held in May-June, amid the resurgence of the virus.


Scenes from a crematorium in the Indian city of Bhopal.
Scenes from a crematorium in the Indian city of Bhopal.

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Despite rising virus cases, pilgrims have gathered in huge numbers to take part in the holy celebration.

On Monday and Tuesday, a huge crowd of worshippers were cheek by jowl as they packed the river's banks to take a dip in the waters as part of a bathing ritual.

"Our faith is the biggest thing for us. It is because of that strong belief that so many people have come here to take a dip in Ganga," Siddharth Chakrapani, a member of one of the Kumbh Mela organising committees, said.



"They believe that Maa (mother) Ganga will save them from this pandemic."

Of some 50,000 samples taken from people in Haridwar, 408 tested positive on Monday and 594 on Tuesday, the Uttarakhand state government said.

The latest figures came as Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh, tweeted on Wednesday that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

India overtook Brazil this week to become the country with the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the world.


The record 184,000 infections reported on Wednesday took the total to almost 13.9 million cases in the vast nation of 1.3 billion people.

Local authorities have imposed night curfews and clamped down on movement and activities.

In India's financial capital Mumbai, where the Maharashtra state government has imposed tougher lockdown measures, migrant workers at a train station said they were leaving for their homes in other states after the tighter restrictions were announced.

"Since I don't have any work, I am not able to pay my rent," migrant worker Imraan Khan told AFP.

The South Asian nation is struggling - a symptom of what experts say is too much complacency and an unwillingness to enforce restrictions instead of keeping the economy open.

- with AFP





Originally published as 'Extremely worrisome' COVID claims