THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: With the waning of the third wave of Covid, life is returning to a new normal but the ambiguity over the protocol for the funeral of people who die of Covid continues to perpetuate the social stigma associated with the disease.
While the local bodies and health authorities have taken a flexible approach in such funerals, odd incidents still happen in different parts of the state where the authorities take a rigid stand, causing mental trauma to the kin of the dead. Though the situation is far better from the initial days of Covid, the lack of awareness of the latest guidelines among officials leads to arbitrary decisions.
With a view to avoiding hassles for the families, the government has periodically changed the protocol with better understanding of the infectious disease. In June last year, the government allowed the relatives to see the body and perform limited religious rites. It also insisted that the funeral should be completed in an hour. However, the Covid funerals have started being treated almost like a normal funeral over a period, as the authorities focus on following the basic Covid protocol. But not all get the benefit.
“When my uncle died of Covid, the health inspector insisted that only close relatives should attend and complete the last rites quickly. It fuelled concerns of spreading the infection and the community representatives who are supposed to help with the funeral rites kept away. We had to scramble for finding a suitable person to supervise the rites,” said Krishna Raj of Chettikulangara panchayat.
The health experts have called for creating awareness among the public and officials to remove the stigma associated with Covid funerals. “There have been incidents of health inspectors taking arbitrary decisions such as not allowing funerals at home, limiting attendance below the rule mandates, and insisting on PPE kits by those handling the body. On the other hand, members of the general public are very much aware of the situation and attend funerals,” said internal medicine specialist and public health activist Dr N M Arun.
“A lot of countries had stringent restrictions in the initial days when the disease was relatively unknown. But they all simplified the rules based on the evidence. There has been no conclusive evidence of Covid getting transmitted from a body so far,” said Dr Althaf A, an epidemiologist and associate professor at Government Medical College Hospital, Manjeri.
‘Protocol lacks scientific backing’
The Covid funeral protocol was heavily influenced by the protocol of Ebola and Nipah. However, the health experts said that there was no scientific backing to follow similar protocol for Covid funerals.