Do All COVID-19 Victims Need to Be Cremated, as Claims BMC Chief?

The BMC chief had ordered for all dead bodies of COVID-19 patients to be cremated irrespective of religion. 

2 min read
The BMC chief had ordered for all dead bodies of COVID-19 patients to be cremated irrespective of religion. 

As Maharashtra continues to witness a steady rise in COVID-19 cases, recording the highest in the country, Praveen Pardeshi, commissioner of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Mumbai issued a circular ordering that dead bodies of all COVID-19 patients must be cremated irrespective of religion.

Following the order, Maharashtra cabinet minister Nawab Malik, tweeted that the circular has now been withdrawn.

This is what the circular read,

“If someone insists to bury the body, they will be permitted if the burial grounds are large enough so as to not create possibility of spread of virus in the neighbouring area and other arrangements are made by the concerned on their own following guidelines and precautions as given for disposal of dead bodies of COVID-19.”
Praveen Pardeshi, BMC

The statements were devoid of logic or scientific backing. In fact, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had issued detailed guidelines on the precautions to be taken by healthcare workers during disposal, cleaning and an autopsy if required. It had also clearly mentioned both cremation and burial as safe options, as long as the needed precautions are followed.

Health Ministry, WHO Stress on Precaution

Throughout the guidelines, the Ministry of Health spoke of both burials and cremation as possible ways for handling the mortal remains of a COVID-19 patient.

“The main driver of transmission of COVID-19 is through droplets. There is unlikely to be an increased risk of COVID infection from a dead body to health workers or family members who follow standard precautions while handling body. Only the lungs of dead COVID patients, if handled during an autopsy, can be infectious,” the Ministry cautions.

In an earlier article, FIT had spoken to Dr (Brig) Anil Khetarpal, Deputy Chief - Medical Services & Chairperson -Department of Blood Bank and Transfusion medicine at Artemis Hospitals, who said, “The rules are the same, with any kind of infection.”

Some standard measures of precautions that the ministry mentions for healthworkers or family members handling the body are:

  1. Hand hygiene.
  2. Use of personal protective equipment (e.g., water-resistant apron, gloves, masks, eyewear).
  3. Safe handling of sharps.
  4. Disinfect bag housing the body; instruments and devices used on the patient.
  5. Disinfect linen.
  6. Clean and disinfect environmental surfaces.
  7. Viewing of the dead body by unzipping the face end of the body bag (by the staff using standard precautions) may be allowed, for the relatives to see the body for one last time.
  8. Religious rituals such as reading from religious scripts, sprinkling holy water and any other last rites that does not require touching of the body can be allowed.
  9. Bathing, kissing, hugging, etc. of the dead body should not be allowed.
  10. The ash does not pose any risk and can be collected to perform the last rites.

“As a rule, the family members should not be kissing or hugging the body. This is important to follow so that they don’t come in contact with the secretions”, Dr Khetarpal added, considering the body as potentially infectious.

It is also extremely important to maintain social distancing at the crematorium or burial ground.

The World Health Organisation has also released guidelines for the safe management of dead bodies of COVID-19 patients, and has maintained that both burial and cremation are safe if the necessary precautions are taken.

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