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Funeral services and crematoriums in India report fewer deaths.
Road deaths sharply down because of lockdown.
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“If we’re not seeing an increase in deaths, the suspicion that there may be more Covid-19 fatalities out there is not true,” said Giridhar Babu, professor of epidemiology at the Public Health Foundation of India.
“It’s very surprising for us,” said Shruthi Reddy, chief executive officer of Anthyesti Funeral Services, which operates in the eastern city of Kolkata and the southern tech hub of Bengaluru.
The company handled about five jobs a day in January but has only had about three a day this month.
“We’ve declared employee pay cuts if revenue falls below a threshold,” Reddy said.
Other numbers tell a similar story.
Central Mumbai, home to some 12 million people, saw deaths fall by about 21 percent in March compared with the same month of 2019, according to municipal data.
Overall deaths plummeted 67 percent in Ahmedabad, the biggest city in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, over the same period.
Data from at least two other cities, along with accounts from state health officials, show a similar pattern. Half a dozen funeral businesses and crematoriums also reported slumps in business, especially in April.
Indian doctors, officials and crematorium employees suspect the lower death rate is in large part attributable to fewer road and rail accidents.
“Road accident cases and even patients with alcohol or drug abuse, stroke and heart attacks have been coming in fewer numbers,” said Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, health minister for the northeastern state of Assam.
Accidents on India’s chaotic roads killed more than 151,400 people in 2018, according to official data, the world’s highest absolute number.
The lockdown, which is due to end on May 3, will cut road deaths by at least 15 percent this year compared with 2018, Paresh Kumar Goel, a director at the Road Transport and Highways Ministry, said.
With passenger trains halted, fatalities from all-too-common rail accidents have also plunged. In Mumbai alone, for example, more than half a dozen people typically die every day on the rail network.
Fewer murders too?
Neeraj Kumar, who is in charge of a crematorium on the banks of the holy Ganges river in Uttar Pradesh state, said victims of crime were also not being brought in.
“We used to get at least 10 accident-related bodies every day and many related to murder cases. But after the lockdown we’re only receiving natural death cases,” Kumar said.
The site used to perform up to 30 cremations a day but in the month since March 22, only 43 people had been cremated, Kumar said after leafing through the crematorium’s record book.
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