Undertakers and graveyards give a picture of deaths caused by Covid-19 that is very different from the official counts in Dhaka.
In Dhaka until June 8, two funeral service providers received 395 dead bodies from hospitals and homes, confirmed with Covid-19, a much higher number than the official tally of 278 deaths declared by the Directorate General of Health Services.
The organisations – Al-Markazul Islami Bangladesh and Rahmat E Alam Social Welfare Organisation – are among a few given permission at the beginning of the pandemic to provide funeral services.
Al-Markazul Islami Bangladesh rolled out the services on March 28 when the country recorded the second death caused by the novel coronavirus.
Eventually, it trained volunteers from Rahmat E Alam and another funeral service provider – Quantum Foundation – that later expanded its operations outside Dhaka.
Until June 8, Al Markazul received the bodies of 286 people who had died of the coronavirus and another 266 who passed away with Covid-19 symptoms. Rahmat E Alam received 109 bodies with Covid-19 test results being positive in all cases.
Quantum Foundation could not provide separate data for the deceased, who had the virus or had symptoms but were not tested.
But it said it provided funeral services for 377 dead bodies in the city's graveyards and crematoria until June 8.
With infected and suspected Covid-19 patients combined, the three organisations handled 1,038 cases for funeral services in the capital alone until June 8.
That indicates a probable undercounting of deaths attributed to the virus, which, as in other countries like Italy, China, the USA and India, might have been driven by the limitation of data collection amid the health crisis brought on by the virus and a lack of tests.
China, which has been accused by many governments of a deliberate disclosure of low deaths in the city of Wuhan, where the pandemic first broke out in December, revised the official death toll by a 50-percent increase in April.
Similarly, Delhi's regional government was blamed for a cover-up of the real figure, according to the Financial Times. The low-death toll was thought to have resulted from exclusions of suspected cases who had symptoms but died without any tests.
In the US and Italy, public health experts and research groups suggested that the actual death cases were much higher than the official figures, reported Business Insider.
According to Italian research group Istituto Cattaneo, the number of coronavirus deaths in Italy, one of the worst-hit countries, was almost double the number reported by the Department of Civil Protection as of April 1.
Many states in the US reported spikes in excess deaths compared to the number of deaths during the same time last year, leading to an assumption that the actual number would be at least 30 percent higher.
According to representatives from funeral service providers in Dhaka, the health directorate communicates with them through mobile messages, notifying them of Covid-19 deaths at hospitals or residences.
They also handled the bodies that could not be tested. In that case, a death certificate comes along, with a warning that the patient had been suspected of carrying the infection.
Volunteers of the organisations said some of the patients had come from outside Dhaka to receive treatment, but died there and were buried in the city's graveyards.
In a few instances, they transported the dead bodies of people, who had resided in Dhaka, but their families requested handing them over for burial in their village homes.
But the limited manpower deployed for the cause cannot be spared for ensuring accuracy in counting, volunteers said, wishing not to be named.
There are inconsistencies in the numbers recorded by the graveyards too.
Data from graveyards and crematorium
As of June 8, 379 dead bodies of people, who had tested Covid-19 positive, were buried in four graveyards of the city – Khilgaon, Rayerbazar, Azimpur and Mirpur.
The graveyards registered 179 more dead bodies of people who died with symptoms like fever, cough and respiratory distresses.
The Postogola crematorium received 79 dead bodies with test results being positive – 20 in April, 42 in May and 17 until June 8.
The total number of bodies cremated during the time also indicates an excess number of deaths. The monthly tally jumped to 142 in May from 80 in the previous month.
When the records of the graveyards and the crematorium are added up, the number of deaths from the coronavirus reaches 458, which is nearly double the official figure of 278 deaths caused by the virus.
If deaths from symptoms are added up, the total figure goes up to 637.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 cases across the country officially reached 94,481, including 1,262 fatalities, as of Tuesday (June 16).