NEW DELHI — Delhi has been cremating so many bodies of COVID-19 victims that authorities are getting requests to start cutting down trees in city parks for kindling, as a record surge of illness is collapsing India's tattered health care system.
Outside graveyards in cities like Delhi, which currently has the highest daily cases, ambulance after ambulance waits in line to cremate the dead. Burial grounds are running out of space in many cities as glowing funeral pyres blaze through the night.
India's surge in coronavirus infections, growing at the fastest pace in the world, has left families and patients pleading for oxygen outside hospitals, the relatives weeping in the street as their loved ones die while waiting for treatment.
The nation of nearly 1.4 billion people set a global record of new daily infections for a fifth straight day Monday. The 350,179 new cases pushed India's total past 17 million, behind only the United States. Deaths rose by 2,812 in the past 24 hours, bringing total fatalities to 195,123, the Health Ministry said, though the number is believed to be a vast undercount.
A stark symbol of the crisis are the overwhelmed graveyards and crematoriums, stacked to the brim with the dead.
In the central city of Bhopal, crematoriums have added pyres. One has been forced to skip the exhaustive rituals Hindus believe release the soul from the cycle of rebirth.
Overwhelmed crematoriums reflect the collapse of India's already fragile health care system. Hospitals are unbearably full, with two or three patients to a bed in some cases. Officials are racing to add beds, ventilators and more oxygen to help the sick breathe.