WHO: Family members may attend janaza of coronavirus dead, but with precautions

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Because of lack of knowledge and awareness, people have been panicking over the matter

There is some confusion among the public about the proper burial procedure for a coronavirus victim. The World Health Organization (WHO) has given some guidelines on the matter, which say that relatives might attend the funerals but should avoid touching the dead body.

Because of lack of knowledge and awareness, people have been panicking over the matter. Some are abandoning the dead bodies of relatives in fear of contracting the virus, while some are hiding their travel history when forced to go to hospital.

WHO’s suggestions

WHO first followed the same guidelines as given for the disposal of dead bodies of people infected by Ebola like diseases and advised cremating the bodies irrespective of religion.

However, they published a revised guideline on March 24, where they said bodies might be buried or cremated.

They said authorities should manage each situation on a case-by-case basis, balancing the rights of the family, the need to investigate the cause of death, and the risk of exposure to infection.

They urged that the dignity of the dead, their cultural and religious traditions, and their families should be respected and protected and the hasty disposal of a dead body should be avoided.

WHO said, based on current evidence, the coronavirus is transmitted between people through droplets, fomites and close contact, with possible spread through faeces. However, it is not airborne in that it cannot come into the air from a corpse.

Except in cases of hemorrhagic fevers (such as Ebola, Marburg) and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious, it added.

Both the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO said friends and family of a person who has died from Covid-19 infection can view the dead body after it is ready for burial, but should not touch, hug or kiss the deceased.

It is also advisable to avoid large gatherings at the crematorium/burial ground as a social distancing measure, because it is possible that close family contacts may be symptomatic and can potentially spread the virus, the WHO guidelines added.

How the global community is performing burial

In India, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Party chief, Asaduddin Owaisi, termed those who died from Covid-19, a severely acute respiratory illness caused by a new strain of coronavirus, as martyrs. In his tweet last Thursday, he said those who die in epidemics get the status of martyrs in Islam and the burial of martyrs does not require “ghusl” (bath) or “kafan” (shroud).

He was of the opinion that namaz-e-janazah should be offered and the burial completed in the  presence of only a few people.

In Turkey, as part of the measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the bodies of the deceased are being buried in caskets.

The UK Government also confirmed on March 23 that the emergency legislation to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic will now recognize the importance of ensuring communities of faith are able to bury the deceased instead of cremating in the event of a significant number of deaths due to coronavirus.

What Bangladesh is doing

Till now in Bangladesh, none of the deaths of Covid-19 was attended by family members, said the health authorities.

Following the first death from Covid-19, Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) Director Meerjady Sabrina Flora on March 19, for the first time talked about the disposal procedure of a dead body.

On March 22, they published the procedure in Bangla on their website where they said, quoting WHO guidelines, that since the dead body could be contagious, no bathing would be done and no relatives would be allowed during the funeral procedure.

Circulation of the information has created panic among people and they are preferring to go untreated.

Relatives of coronavirus suspected deceased are refusing to come and bury them properly for fear of being infected. In this situation, the Health and Family Planning ministry has published a press release stating that a committee will be formed in every upazila with 10 volunteers (with at least three women) for burial of the coronavirus suspected deceased.

They will be trained by the Islamic Foundation or Al Markazul Islami Bangladesh.