Four crematoriums in Delhi run by the civic bodies started using wood to perform funerals of patients who were either confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus from Thursday, Hindustan Times reported.

The North Delhi Municipal Corporation, which is the nodal agency for managing cremations of Covid-19 patients, on Wednesday directed four crematoriums in Karkardooma, Nigambodh Ghat, Rani Jhansi Road and Punjabi Bagh to use wood for funeral rites. This was necessitated because only two out of the six compressed natural gas or CNG-run furnaces were functioning. Bodies of patients also began piling up as overburdened crematoriums started to return them to hospital authorities.

Using wood for the cremation of bodies was not permitted earlier for the fear of increasing the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. However, as dozens of bodies are still emerging each day from private homes and hospitals in the Capital, morgues, funeral homes, cemeteries and crematories are all full.

At the Lok Nayak hospital in Delhi, with only two CNG furnaces working, bodies have started to pile up at the Covid-19 designated mortuary. The mortuary has a total of 108 bodies. But with all 80 storage racks already full, 28 bodies have been put on the floor, piled on top of each other.

Unidentified officials told the newspaper that the third furnace was fixed on Wednesday night. However, the staff at the Nigambodh Ghat – a crematorium on the banks of Yamuna – said it will take them at least two months to repair the other three furnaces.

At the Rani Jhansi crematorium, which has started taking bodies of confirmed and suspected Covid-19 cases after the order, 15 bodies were cremated using wood until Thursday evening. But authorities are cautious about allowing gatherings, ensuring there is no contact with the body at any point.

“We have just started dealing with Covid-19 cases,” Sultan Singh, the person in charge of the crematorium, said. “We allow only one member of the family near the body to light the pyre. Even that one relative has to wear mask and take other precautions. The priests handling such bodies also wear masks and gloves. Nobody opens the body that is wrapped in a personal protective equipment suit.”

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Until Wednesday evening, the bodies of patients were being taken to the electric crematoriums at Nigambodh Ghat and Punjabi Bagh. Besides these, four burial grounds – in ITO, Mangolpuri, Madanpur Khadar and Shastri Park – have also been identified.

At Nigambodh Ghat, 15 bodies were cremated using wood by Thursday evening and five others were cremated in the CNG furnace. But authorities worry about the environmental hazards of using wood. “There are rows of bodies cremated through the wood in the open,” Suman Gupta, of the Nigambodh Ghat Sanchalan Samiti, told Hindustan Times. “We are worried about the smoke...The lives of our 70 workers and 100 priests are at risk.”

Until now cremations were done only in the CNG furnace and took place in an isolated section. “Outsiders were not allowed inside,” Gupta said. “Now the Covid-19 bodies are being cremated in the open, sometimes side by side too. We are only doing it because of the government’s orders.”

However, Dr Sudhir Gupta, professor and head of the department of forensic medicine and toxicology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said that it is perfectly safe to dispose of the body through the wood-based method. “The temperature maintained is the same as that of the CNG furnace,” he said. But one must follow the guidelines that the government has issued such as not coming in contact with the body, he added.

Delhi has reported 16,281 cases of the coronavirus as of Friday, including 316 deaths, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.