ONGOLE: MEDICAL experts say victims of Covid-19 don’t pose a risk if they’ve been dead more than six hours. But people here don’t buy it. Eight bodies lie at the Ongole Government General Hospital (GGH) mortuary because locals won’t let them be buried or cremated near their villages. Some of these bodies have been at the mortuary for more than 10 days. The locals fear victims’ bodies would not just spread the virus to people in the vicinity, but also contaminate the groundwater and soil.
In one such incident, a huge posse of policemen was deployed to ensure a victim’s last rites were performed. But despite attempts at four burial grounds in Ongole and Tangutur mandal, the officials had to return the body to the mortuary, where it remains today. Though officials assert that the protocol for cremating or burying Covid-19 victims will be followed, the villagers are usually unwilling to budge. On the night of July 9, officials were to perform the last rites of two victims near the Gundlakamma Project hillside area, between Annangi and Burepalli villages.
On hearing about this, people from the nearby Timmanapalem and Yerrabalem villages and the Gundlapalli Growth Centre staged a protest on National Highway 16, causing traffic congestion for about three hours. Revenue and police officials rushed there and tried in vain to make the protestors relent. With no other option, the officials brought the body back to the mortuary.
“The authorities wanted to bury the body in the hillocks near four villages and the Gundlapalli Growth Centre, where a large number of people live. How can we allow this amid fears of the virus spreading? Besides, the area they picked is near the Gundlakamma project, from where water is supplied to Ongole town and 140 habitations,” said M Ramesh Babu, a native of Yerrabalem. In another such incident, two Covid-19 patients died at the Ongole GGH on July 1.
When their relatives and government staff took the body to a burial ground in Ongole city, the locals and authorities of the burial ground refused to let them in though the officials explained the precautions that would be taken to avoid the spread of the virus. They then headed to another burial ground, but the locals there blocked the road with logs to keep them away. Following this, they went to a small village in Tangutur mandal, and from there to a village in Santhanuthalapadu mandal, but faced stiff resistance at both villages. Finally, they returned the body to the GGH mortuary.
“At one place where the villagers stopped us, we called for additional police personnel to tackle the situation. But by the time they arrived, thousands of people had gathered and we were helpless,” a senior police official recounted. In a similar incident, the government staff in Markapur faced objections when they tried to perform the last rites of a Covid- 19 victim at a local burial ground. Though the district administration formed a ‘Covid-19 Victims Funeral Procedures Monitoring Committee’, headed by a Revenue Divisional Officer, to resolve problems related to performing the last rites of victims, it has not been successful.
A meeting with locals in this regard was held at Annangi, but that too yielded no results. “It is now clear that the infection does not last after six hours (after death). Cremation of bodies will not affect anyone or contaminate the locality as the medical staff are taking the necessary precautions. The mortal remains will be packed in a zip bag after being totally disinfected. People should not behave in an inhuman manner towards victims and their relatives,” said Ongole GGH superintendent Dr D Sree Ramulu.