Covid in India: Boy, 13, preparing father's body for funeral at roadside crematorium among the haunting images of crisis

This video contains distressing images

With the death toll at the highest weekly rate yet, families in India are experiencing devastating losses due to the second wave of the Covid pandemic.

ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner describes the haunting images she has seen first hand.

I have just watched a 13-year-old boy light the fire under his father's body as part of the Hindu cremation ritual, a solitary figure dressed in full protective clothing.

It's a haunting image that is difficult to get out of your head and illustrates the daily horror that Delhi is facing as the city struggles to cope with a devastating second wave of Covid-19.

As the eldest son, Rudra has to light his father's funeral pyre as per Hindu tradition. Credit: ITV News

The panic and chaos of a few weeks ago may have subsided but in their place is a grim recognition that India is in the grip of a deadly variant that is killing  people in record numbers.

The weekly death toll for the week ending May 9 is the highest yet with an average of 4,000 people a day losing their lives to the virus. 

Today the 13-year-old schoolboy saying goodbye to his father on the banks of the Hinden River was Rudra Sonthalia.

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Uma Shankar Sonthalia was a well-known journalist who had been suffering with Covid for 10 days and his family thought he was getting better.

Instead at 5.30 this morning he had massive heart attack and it was their duty to bury his body before sunset.

The body of Uma Shankar Sonthalia is prepared for cremation. Credit: ITV News

As his eldest son, Rudra had to light the pyre according to Hindu tradition, while his two sisters and mother sat in a car a short distance away.

He looked dazed and numb as the crematorium assistants talked him through the process.

Uma Shankar’s brother is a doctor and he explained to me what a shock the death had been and how he is seeing far more people in their 30s and 40s dying like this during the second wave.

Rudra, dressed in protective clothing, cut a solitary figure as he carried out ceremonial duties ahead of his father's cremation. Credit: ITV News

He pointed out that they tend to be the main earners leaving behind countless families without financial support. 

Sad as it sounds, Delhi seems to be adjusting to this cruel reality, learning to cope in the midst of death and grief.

Across the city hospital intensive care units are still filled to capacity with the most severely ill yet there are no longer queues at the hospital gates.

This seems to be for a couple of reasons. 

Firstly the government working with local communities and NGOs has belatedly set up field hospitals where the mild and moderately ill can be filtered out.

Only the sickest will be sent to the public hospitals to use the limited ventilators and receive specialist medical help. 

Secondly, people have learned to phone around and search for spare beds in hospitals.

Now the are looking after their sick relatives at home rather than letting them die on the streets as they plead for a bed.

Instead you meet desperate young people involved in a frantic search for a hospital bed.

We spoke to one young woman who finally secured a place for her father after being turned down by numerous hospitals for two days and a young man buying more oxygen for his 47-year-old mother who he fears will die if he can’t find her a spare bed. 

Funeral pyres of those lost during the second wave of the pandemic are seen on the side of streets in Delhi. Credit: ITV News

There was one brighter note. The oxygen crisis appears to be have become less acute.

The Supreme Court had to step in to sort out distribution ensuring that different States, hospitals and private individuals were all given access to the life saving gas.

But it is now available to anyone prepared to stand in line for a few hours and pay 300 rupees (around £3) to refill a canister. 

The basic messages about wearing masks, washing hands and keeping a safe social distance have not been a priority for the Narenda Modi government and many still don’t seem to have learnt them.

It still feels as though the city is facing a long, painful slog to bring down infection rates and deaths.