The Home Ministry on Saturday (April 25) said the bodies of Indian nationals and OCI cardholders, who died abroad due to COVID-19, can be brought back, but with strict adherence to relevant guidelines.
In an official communication, the ministry said airport authorities have to follow the protocols laid down by different government agencies in this regard.
It is clarified that immigration functions in respect of the arrival of dead bodies and mortal remains of the Indian nationals/OCI cardholders are permitted subject to strict adherence to the guidelines/instructions issued by various ministries and departments related with management of COVID-19 and submission of no objection, approval and concurrence from the Ministries of Health and External Affairs in this regard,” the communication said.
The Home Ministry also said the Standard Operating Procedures issued by the health ministry in this regard must be strictly adhered to.
According to the SOP, the human remains mean the dead body and the exhumed body of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients. It says the importation of the human remains of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case into India is not recommended.
The MHA said if, contrary to the above recommendation, human remains of the suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 arrive at Indian airports, the concerned Airport Health Officer (APHO) has to follow certain procedures. The APHO will verify the the death certificate mentioning the cause of death as confirmed COVID-19 or suspected COVID-19, it said.
It will also verify the no-objection certificate (NOC) for the transportation of human remains of the deceased issued by the Indian Embassies or High Commissions or # Consulates. Embalming certificate issued by an authorised agency, the ministry said.
On the examination of packaging or human remains, it said the concerned airline shall ensure that the external packing of coffin is undamaged.
The APHO will verify the required documents and inspect the packing in accordance with the provisions under the Indian Aircraft (Public Health) Rules. 1954, the MHA said.
If there are any obvious signs of damage to the coffin, the handlers shall use full PPE, cover the coffin in plastic sheets to avoid any contact with the body or body fluids before hand-over of the human remains to the concerned authority for final burial or incineration.
The personnel handling the human remains should follow the laid down procedures for donning and doffing of Personal Protective Equipment and follow other protective measures for COVID-19 like hand-washing with soap and water, etc. to ensure that they remain protected during the procedure, it said.
The coffin shall be buried or incinerated following the norms for burial or incineration for human remains with high risk pathogens, the MHA said, adding the handlers would be monitored for 28 days and the designated vehicle disinfected as per the norms.
In all such cases, the APHO must direct the concerned airline (carrying the damaged packing containing human remains) to carry out the disinfection of the aircraft as per the norms, it said.
In addition, the staff handling the cargo (human remains in question) shall be quarantined for 28 days.
The MHA said the ashes remaining after the cremation pose no risk to the relatives who handle such mortal remains and will be cleared in accordance with the provisions under the Indian Aircraft (Public Health) Rules, 1954.