By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU, October 29 (Reuters) – As the number of coronavirus deaths rises in Nepal, workers at Kathmandu’s only crematorium designated to care for the victims worked past midnight, their meager wages supplemented by less than US 50 cents for each corpse.
Elsewhere in a country that is among the poorest in the world, bodies are burned on funeral pyres and their ashes are buried, but in the capital, they are taken to the crematorium at the Hindu temple complex of Pashupatinath.
“There is hardly any room for emotion,” Shyam Kharel, one of the workers, told Reuters as he prepared to place a yellow bag containing a body in the incinerator.
“Initially there weren’t many, just five or six, and sometimes none at all for days,” Kharel said. “But now it’s down to 25 or 26 a day.”
Although he was given protective gear, Kharel said five of his colleagues were infected.
Keeping tally of infections and deaths is a challenge in Nepal, a country of 30 million people located along the southern Himalayas, as testing is limited, making confirmed cases of COVID-19 potentially fine. below the actual number.
The latest government figures show that the total number of cases in Nepal stood at 162,354, including 887 deaths. The official daily death toll stands at around 15 per day since a peak of 26 seen on October 21.
Nepal was quick to enter a lockdown when its second case of COVID-19 was confirmed in March. But protesters angry at the government’s handling of the outbreak clashed with police in June.
Restrictions were relaxed at the end of July and, despite an increase in infections since, the government has been reluctant to tighten again as the economy falters and Nepal’s poor could hardly afford to stay away. markets or labor.
Prime Minister K.P Sharma Oli told the Nepalese that they have strong immunity and advised them to strengthen it with traditional remedies like drinking hot water with turmeric.
The densely populated old town of Kathmandu and its valley dotted with temples are responsible for 44% of infections in Nepal and more than a third of deaths.
Authorities say the country’s overburdened health infrastructure, with few intensive care beds, is at risk of being overwhelmed.
Kharel waited grimly for more victims to arrive at the crematorium.
“This is your job, and if one is done, there is another waiting.”
(Navesh Chitrakar additional reporting; Editing by Alasdair Pal and Simon Cameron-Moore)