In Thailand, news broke that the novel coronavirus transmitted from a dead body to a medical examiner. The case is the first of it’s kind to exist and came as a shock to many. It also piqued concerns over how the bodies of individuals who pass away from the virus are handled.
Upon conducting research, I found information on how COVID-19 deaths in Singapore are managed. Following the careful nature of our country, it made perfect sense that there were several strict guidelines put into place.
This means that everything from the people behind the cremation, the process of burial, as well as funeral attendees, are very meticulously handled. If you’re curious about what goes on, let me guide you through this very thorough process
Once pronounced dead, bodies infected by COVID-19 are prepared for cremation or burial by healthcare workers in hospitals. This is in line with guidelines issued by the National Environment Agency(NEA).
Other stringent measures include double-bagging the victims in sealed and leak-proof heavy-duty cadaveric body bags before placing them in airtight coffins. For added safety, the coffins are wiped and disinfected within the vicinity of the hospital mortuary.
If there are any religious rituals to be conducted, they can be done within the isolation ward before the body is bagged. However, under no circumstances are the remains allowed to be sprayed, washed or embalmed. This is following the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) advisory to prevent the spread of the virus as coming into contact with bodily fluids of the diseased risks the potential of infection.
Hospitals have been provided with a list of funeral firms that are willing and able to cater to COVID-19 patients and will advise affected families on these locations when necessary. The companies offering funeral services are only permitted to conduct and proceed with the funeral if their staff have undergone the basic infection control course conducted by the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).
The course properly equips these individuals to collect, casket, and transport the bodies for cremation or burial. The staff members conducting the process also have to be suitably dressed in protective attire such as wearing masks and gloves when carrying out their work.
This ensures that they are well prepared to handle the bodies and do not put themselves in a position to be at risk of contracting the virus. Other measures include heavy sanitising of vehicles that were used to transport the bodies from one destination to another to reduce the probability of spread and infection.
On March 21, NEA assured that wakes for COVID-19 victims are permitted but contact with the body is not allowed. Attendees will be limited, following the numbers introduced in the circuit breaker. They are also encouraged to only conduct the memorial services after the cremations or burials to further reduce time spent at the funerals.
Social distancing of at least 1m between attendees will have to be followed at all times throughout the process of the wake. For example, at the Mandai crematorium, staggered seating is in place at the service halls to minimise contact and transmission of air-borne droplets between people.
Although allowed, families are asked to keep the ceremonies short to minimise the risk posed by contact among visitors during the wake. Burial is also permitted if there are strong religious reasons that follow it. However, no contact with the body can be made during the burial either. Their coffins are lowered into the grave with ropes held by trained and well-protected staff.
As you can tell, the process of handling COVID-19 patients is very rigid here in Singapore as the government, hospitals and funeral homes take ensuring the safety of people very seriously. However, this does not give anyone a reason to not see the need to be socially responsible.
I hope that you never have to be in the position where you have to encounter a fatality of a loved one to COVID-19. But if this is the situation that you’re in, you can rest assured that the process that comes along with it ensures that you can pay your respects while staying safe as long as all the guidelines are heavily followed. I wish you the best of health through these unprecedented times as we all practice social responsibility to tackle the novel coronavirus together.
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