Durban - The wrapping of bodies of Covid-19 victims and coffins in plastic covering prior to burial to prevent infections is unnecessary and should be stopped.
This is according to the Department of Health Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19, which also said that the wrapping of a corpse with plastic is not required.
This comes after various bodies, including traditional leaders complained about the latest practice, describing it as a contravention of people’s cultural beliefs and rituals.
This phenomenon has led to some graves being dug up, bodies being illegally exhumed and the plastic covering being removed, and coffins being reburied. There were also fears that the bodies of Covid-19 victims were still highly contagious.
However, the committee’s chairpersons Professor Salim Abdool Karim and Professor Marian Jacobs, said that evidence from the World Health Organisation(WHO) states that there was no evidence that the virus can be transmitted from dead bodies to humans.
The committee said the transmission occurs amongst the livings due to overcrowding, lack of social distancing and wearing of masks.
It further said that WHO recommended that the use of body bags to transfer corpse from the hospital to the mortuary or funeral parlour for preparation.
“This is to avoid exposure to body fluid. If there are no signs of fluid leak, a shroud is acceptable. All those handling the body, whether its health workers or family, must abide by the rules of handling the body, hand hygiene, wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE), and disinfecting after the process is completed,” said the committee.
Traditional leaders in KwaZulu-Natal this week raised concerns over incidents of bodies being swopped at funeral parlours, which led to a number of bereaved families collecting, cremating and burying strangers.
According to the leaders, these mix-ups appear to be happening because of the strict Covid-19 protocols regarding how funeral parlours deal with cases where people have died of Covid-19. In these cases, families are not allowed to view their loved ones.
At least two incidents were reported last week, where families were given the wrong bodies to bury by funeral parlours.
On their recommendation letter to Minister Zweli Mkhize, the committee said the face of the deceased can be exposed during the funeral proceeding. It said that this should be done provided that it was not possible to touch or hug the person.
“To prevent touching the corpse, perspex or similar cover over the exposed face should be used. All those handling the body should use appropriate PPEs as the may have to handle infectious materials and surface.”
The committee warned communities against illegal exhumation and reburial of remains without the relevant legal authorisation
The South African Funeral Practitioners Association welcomed the recommendation by the committee, saying they also have been making these recommendations since last year.
Spokesperson Vuyo Mabindisa said funeral parlours didn't stop families from viewing their loved one's body or conducting rituals and cultural activities, but they followed the regulations.
“They did not listen to us and we had to follow their instructions on this matter. After the funeral has been done two or three weeks down the line, families come to us and complain. They are concerned that they may have buried the wrong person. We have been getting a lot of complaints across the country, as a result, some families even dug up the body to remove the plastic wrap,” said Mabindisa.
According to Mabindisa, most of the complaints were coming from black communities as some demanded to look, and wash the body themselves.
Mabindisa said that having their members in full PPE, and have coffins wrapped with covering was wrong as it stigmatise the victim’s family.
“This thing is unnecessary. We all know that the deceased cannot infect the living as per the WHO findings. These funerals did not provide any dignity and closure, however, it was another form of discrimination,” he said.