Guidelines for cremation, burial of Covid-19 victims to be discussed next week - Director General of Health | Sunday Observer

Guidelines for cremation, burial of Covid-19 victims to be discussed next week - Director General of Health

28 February, 2021

The Government reversed its decision to cremate bodies of all Covid-19 victims to let communities to allow burials under special circumstances.

The Gazette notification that was issued on Thursday (25), stated that the words ‘Cremation of Corpse’ of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance will be substituted to ‘Cremation or burials of the corpse’.

In addition, words ‘shall be cremated’ will be substituted by ‘may be cremated or buried. In the case of cremation, 'the corpse of such person shall be cremated’.

The Director General of Health told the media that guidelines of new cremation and burial of Covid-19 deceased will be discussed during a special meeting of which decisions are to be announced next week.

The decision came shortly after the visit by Pakistani Premier Imran Khan who also took to twitter to welcome the decision.

“I thank the Sri Lankan leadership and welcome the Sri Lankan Government’s official notification permitting the option to bury Covid-19 deceased,” he tweeted.

During his two-day official visit to Sri Lanka, Khan held meetings with leaders of the Muslim community where the contentious issue of cremation of Covid deaths had also surfaced. His visit was marked with a demonstration where the protesters carried a coffin to signify the gravity of the matter.

“We are happy about the decision. We sincerely hope that this will be the end of it,” Vice President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka and the first petitioner against forced cremation, Hilmy Ahamed said, adding that he hopes the Government would stay firm on its decision.

Muslims, as a tradition, bury their deceased facing Mecca. The Government’s decision to initially cremate all dead bodies of Covid-19 victims caused an uproar as a result. Among other communities who bury their dead include Christians and some sections of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Due to the special health precautions, the final rites of the Buddhists and other faiths were also curtailed. Yet the intensity of protests by the Muslim community overshadowed the others' concerns.

The World Health Organization has said that there was no risk when burying a Covid-19 body. “The dignity of the dead, their cultural and religious traditions and their families should be respected and protected throughout,” it stated.

The United Nations in a letter also urged the Government to revisit its decision to cremate Covid-19 victims’ bodies. UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer said that the ban of burials was not supported by scientific evidence. “The common assumption that people who died of a communicable disease should be cremated to prevent spread is not supported by evidence. Instead, cremation is a matter of cultural choice and available resources,” her letter read.

“I am following with encouragement recent media reports that the current prohibition of burials of Covid-19 victims in Sri Lanka could be revisited shortly,” she stated in the letter.

The issue created divided opinions among the members of the Government. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, making a statement in Parliament last month stated that the Government was open to allow burial of Covid-19 deaths, a decision endorsed by State Minister of Covid Disease Prevention Dr.Sudharshani Fernandopulle.


WHO’s recommendation of cremating or burying a person who succumbed to Covid-19

People who died of Covid-19 can be buried or cremated according to local standards and family preferences.

* National and local regulations may determine how the remains should be handled and disposed.

* Family and friends may view the body after it has been prepared for burial in accordance with local customs. They should not touch the body and should perform hand hygiene after viewing.

* Family and friends should also follow local guidelines regarding the number of people that can attend a viewing or burial and local mask requirements.

* Those tasked with placing the body in the grave, on the funeral pyre should wear gloves and wash their hands with soap and water after the removal of the gloves once the burial is complete.

* A body in a bag or coffin can be treated in accordance with local customs and standards.

* If a body is to be buried or cremated without a casket or body bag, use surgical or waterproof rubber gloves to place the body in the grave or the funeral pyre and perform hand hygiene afterwards.

* The number of people conducting the burial or cremation should be kept at a minimum.