COVID-19: Health ministry gives guidelines for cremation of bodies

Bodies do not pose additional risk of infection, if standard guidelines are followed, says govt

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Crematorium staff and family members of the first victim of the novel coronavirus in India were concerned whether cremating an infected body will spread the virus further.

The last rites of the 68-year-old woman, who succumbed to COVID-19 in New Delhi on Saturday (March 14), were delayed by a few hours due to the staff at CNG crematorium at Nigambodh ghat in the national capital seeking seeking directives from the hospital.

However, Randeep Guleria, director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) told ANI that the coronavirus cannot spread through dead bodies as it transfers through respiratory secretion. Coughing is necessary for the spread of this virus, so there is no risk in cremating the infected bodies, he added.

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In a bid to resolve the ongoing doubt amid the death toll due to coronavirus increasing in the country, the health ministry released guidelines for body management in case of death of a COVID-19 patient.

These guidelines describe the precautions that need to be taken during autopsy, transportation of a body or performing of last rites.

According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the religious rituals which do not require touching of the body are allowed while cremating the corpse of a COVID-19 patient.

The guidelines include: reading of religious scripts, sprinkling of holy water or any other rites performed during the cremation, the family members or relatives are allowed to see the face of the deceased, the body of whom would be kept in a secured body bag. However, they are not allowed to bathe, kiss, hug or touch the body in any manner.

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The funeral/burial staff members and all those who are present at the spot should perform hand hygiene after the cremation, read the document. The ash does not pose any risk and can be collected to perform further rites as per religious norms.

The government also urged the family members of the deceased to avoid large gatherings at the crematorium or burial grounds as it may pose the threat of spreading the infections.

The preventive measure of social distancing should be followed, said the government, adding that health workers or family have no additional risk of the COVID infection from a body if standard precautions are followed.

The government also gave guidelines for autopsies which suggested similar precautionary measures.