In early May, social media users in India began sharing two grisly amateur videos showing patients with Covid-19 being treated right next to the bodies of people who succumbed to the disease in two public hospitals in Mumbai.
The first few seconds of the first video shows a hospital corridor filled with dozens of people. A health worker in protective gear talks to someone.
Then the person filming the video veers off into a nearby ward filled with beds, where there are bodies wrapped up in black body bags. The other beds are filled with patients.
This video, which was filmed in Lokmanya Tilak Public Hospital in the Sion neighborhood in Mumbai, has garnered more than 150,000 views since it was first posted on Twitter on May 6 by Nitesh Narayan Rane, an Indian politician who is a member of the opposition.
After the video started circulating, the director of the hospital accused family members of failing to come and collect their dead relatives. He has since been dismissed.
On May 9, a second, similar video started circulating online. The video, which was filmed at the KEM Hospital in Mumbai, shows a large number of patients crowded into the same room. Some of them are lying on the floor.
Almost all of them are wearing masks or breathing in oxygen. Around 28 seconds into the video, the person filming goes into a room where, just as in Sion, several of the beds appear to contain bodies wrapped up in bags.
Under Indian law, the body of a person who dies of Covid-19 must be removed from a hospital room within 30 minutes of death and must be removed from the hospital itself in under two hours.
These videos don’t show how long the bodies have been lying in these hospital rooms but, shortly after they began to circulate online, the city of Mumbai began legal proceedings against personnel at the Sion hospital.
“Families refuse to pick up the bodies”
Many Indian doctors are blaming the situation on a lack of resources and the sheer exhaustion and overwork of medical personnel. Amar [not his real name] is a doctor at KEM Hospital.
He told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that many families are refusing to come and pick up the bodies of their dead relatives, for fear of catching the virus:
They ask us to bring the bodies directly to the crematoriums, which adds to the workload of our ambulance drivers. And we only have a limited number of ambulances and employees.
With the density of the population, the growing pandemic, and the limited government spending on medical infrastructure over the past few years, a situation like this was bound to happen.
Right now, there is a lot of confusion over the equipment, the logistics, and even the staff. Sometimes we have nurses and nurses’ assistants, while, on other days, we don’t have anyone to help us.
At my hospital, interns have been working non-stop for the past two months without pay; imagine how distressing that must be for them. If they don’t give us basic material in the coming days, we might stop working and try to go back to our hometowns.
Another doctor at the Sion hospital also told the FRANCE 24 Observers team that the process for removing a body is long and complicated.
“The hospital has to contact the crematorium and arrange for a van for the family and the carers. All of that takes time. Our hospital doesn’t just cater to people with Covid-19. We have to treat Covid-19 patients as well as all of the others.”
To make up for this lack of personnel and material, some hospitals, like Nair Hospital in Mumbai, have posted job ads, seeking to employ people to wrap up the bodies of patients who die of Covid-19, in exchange for 500 rupees, which is equivalent to six euros.
According to official statistics on May 19, a total of 3,169 people have died of Covid-19 in India and more than 102,000 people have been infected.