Thirty gravediggers in Dhaka's Rayerbazar burial ground used to dig five to six graves per day even in March. But of late they have been preparing 10-12 graves a day, especially since the beginning of April, with the lone Covid-19 dedicated graveyard in the capital seeing an influx in bodies as a consequence of coronavirus.
"Recently, there have been five to seven bodies arriving here at a time, which makes our shift difficult. Therefore, we have dug many graves by excavators in advance," Hridoy, a gravedigger at Rayerbazar, told The Business Standard.
"We do not know who will occupy the empty graves. Maybe they are still alive," he added.
A recent visit to the burial ground revealed around 100 graves dug up in advance at block-8 – the part of the graveyard set aside only for Covid-19 victims.
Burials are completed promptly with the arrival of the corpses. Some workers in personal protective equipment (PPE) bring out the bodies from ambulances while the relatives of the deceased stand nearby.
The burial workers said though people have substantially shaken off their panic over Covid-19 deaths, still only a few relatives turn up at the graveyard to bid the final farewell to the dead.
The body of Covid-19 victim Hosne-Ara arrived at the graveyard at noon on Friday. Rayhan Kibria, the son of the deceased, said his mother had died at home.
"Our ancestral village is in Rangpur, but we brothers and sisters live in the capital. Therefore, we wanted to bury her in the capital. Besides, burying a Covid-19 victim in a village in Rangpur may invite protests and trouble," added Kibria.
Rayerbazar graveyard senior official (Muharar or registrar) Abdul Aziz told TBS that the influx of Covid-10 deaths began in early April. "We buried around 170 victims in just 15 days of April. The figure was 88 in the first half of March," he noted.
According to Aziz, 842 people who died from Covid-19 were buried at Rayerbazar from 27 April to 19 September last year. Average burials per day were between three and five.
From November last year to February this year, the daily Covid victim burials declined to one. But pressure started mounting in the last two weeks of March with five to six bodies being interred a day. Daily burials, in April, jumped to 12.
At Rayerbazar, more than 1,100 Covid-19 victims have been buried so far.
In Dhaka metropolitan area, 160 Covid victims were laid to rest at Khilgaon graveyard and three to five victims were buried at Azimpur last year. In the face of protests by residents adjacent to the graveyards, the Covid-19 burials were later shifted to Rayerbazar.
In the meantime, the pressure of burials of Covid-19 victims has also increased at Matuail graveyard in Demra on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka.
Matuail gravedigger Shahjahan said five to six graves were being dug per day in April, while the daily count had been only two to three previously.
"It is tough to tackle the pressure with only seven workers. We have requested the graveyard committee to recruit more people," Shahjahan added.
Abdul Kader, the graveyard office assistant, said the graveyard authorities do not differentiate between people who die from Covid-19 and those who die from other causes. In 2019, they buried 1,101 while 1,825 people were laid to rest at the graveyard in 2020.
Kader said if the influx of bodies continues, the graveyard may face a scarcity of land for burials in future.
According to the health directorate, as many as 10,683 people died from coronavirus until 21 April 2021.