Ashwin Trikamjee
Ashwin Trikamjee

Coronavirus: Burial guidelines will be adhered to - faith groups

By Chanelle Lutchman Time of article published Mar 26, 2020

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Durban - FAITH-BASED organisations say they will adhere to the guidelines stipulated in a draft report on how those who die as a result of the coronavirus (Covid-19) are laid to rest.

Ashwin Trikamjee, the president of the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, said the guidelines would pose a challenge for Hindus.

“According to what we know, only the family members should attend the funeral and friends should abstain. There are also rituals that people do to give thanks to the body.”

This included bathing and cleaning the body.

“At this stage, if the family needs to perform the rituals, they should wear protective masks, gloves and bodysuits. If this is prohibited, they should accept they cannot perform certain rituals.”

Trikamjee said it was not a rule set in stone that families had to bathe and clean their loved one’s bodies.

“It is more out of respect. We believe in the soul. The soul never dies. It leaves the body once the body dies. We are just cleansing the body.

“We believe the body must go back to the earth where it came from, so we cleanse it and prepare it and after cremating it we distribute the ash in the sea.”

Bishop Rubin Phillip of the Anglican Diocese of Natal, said mourners would understand why the guidelines were implemented.

“After death, the body is usually taken to the funeral parlour and the employees there dress the body and prepare it for the funeral. We do not touch the body at all.

“It’s only when the top part of the coffin is opened during the funeral that mourners would touch the deceased’s face.

“But I’m sure under the circumstances we are faced with, the funeral directors will guide the mourners on what to do and tell them not to touch.”

He said he agreed with the suggestion that families cremate their loved ones instead of burying them.

“We are seeing fewer and fewer burials taking place at the moment. While it is solely up to the family on which option they chose, I believe we should be cremating. Not because I believe there is a health risk but because I believe it is wiser to cremate.”

He said people needed to understand the guidelines that were in place to avoid them getting Covid-19.

“The guidelines are in the interest of the bereaved family and whoever they come into contact with. People should not be upset as this virus is infecting people worldwide and the government is just being cautious.”

However, Ahmed Paruk, from the Islamic Burial Council, said the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) had not considered religion when it prepared draft guidelines for disposing of a body infected with the virus.

“The guidelines were made in a rush because the virus started spreading to all parts of the world. Cultural groups, like the Zulu people and Shembe people, as well as Muslims, will never not touch or bathe the body. Even if the virus is infecting thrice as bad, we have to stick to our cultures.”

He said even if the body was in three heavy-duty poly bags and buried, “the body would not decompose as the bag is made of plastic and it takes long for plastic to decompose”.

He said Muslims generally prepared the body of their loved ones for shrouding. Two family members would be present with the undertaker.

“In this case, I would assume they would be in fully protected gear, with glasses and gloves, and when they are done preparing the body - will wrap the body in three cloths and, thereafter, sanitise the room they worked in.”

He added that some people would have to be buried, as that was the religion. He said he understood the guidelines by the NICD and the Department of Health.

“The more people are getting infected, the more the government is trying to protect citizens.”

In a four-page guideline by the Islamic Burial Council in Gauteng, it said all personnel should use personal protective equipment to prevent infection from spreading, even after a person passes away.

It said all non-essential equipment that could be removed from the vehicle used to transport the body must be removed and the vehicle should have a minimum of two body bags per corpse.

“The body bags should be fluid leak proof for the corpse to be placed in.”

When collecting the suspecting or confirmed corpse from home, a medical doctor must confirm the death and notify the NICD. A decision must then be taken on where the corpse will be taken.

With regards to performing the ghusal or full-body ritual, everyone who partakes will need to use protective wear like inner and outer gloves, safety glasses, and knee high cover shoes, among others.

When handling the corpse, clothing that is removed from the corpse must be placed in a medical waste basket which must be sealed. Paper towels must be used to dry off the body and everyone must use a new set of gloves for the shrouding of the body.

The body must then be placed in body bags that are fluid leak proof and wiped down with chlorine solution.

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