No protocol on disposing bodies of those who die of COVID-19
Health experts say that the chances of somebody else contracting the coronavirus after handling the corpse is minimal. However, they advice that such bodies should ideally be cremated.Updated: Mar 17, 2020 08:19 IST
Three days after the first Covid-19 death was reported in the Capital, the central government is yet to come up with a protocol on how bodies of those infected by the virus should be handled.
With over 6,000 coronavirus deaths reported globally, out of which two are from India, senior officials on Monday agreed that there is no set protocol for handling fatalities that could result from this outbreak in the country.
In the first coronavirus death in India, a 76-year-old man from Karnataka’s Kalburgi was buried after being thoroughly disinfected. In the second death, involving a 68-year-old woman from Delhi’s Janakpuri, her body was cremated in a CNG crematorium.
Health experts say that the chances of somebody else contracting the virus after handling the corpse is minimal. However, they advice that such bodies should ideally be cremated.
In the absence of a standard operating procedure the Delhi government said it is relying only on the “suggestions” given by the director general of health services (DGHS).
“When the first case (in the Capital) happened, our officials sought help of the DGHS since there were no set rules. The DGHS suggested that we should treat an infected dead body with the same caution as a living infected person. So far we are following this,” said a senior Delhi government official.
Lav Aggarwal, joint secretary, Union ministry of health and family welfare, said that the Centre is planning to constitute a joint committee to come up with a set procedure that will be followed while transporting, handling and cremating the infected bodies.
“The committee will form a standard operating procedure and this will be communicated to all the hospitals soon,” Aggarwal said.
A 68-year-old resident of west Delhi’s Janakpuri succumbed to the infection on Friday night. She was cremated 14 hours after her death. She was infected after coming in contact her 46-year-old son who had landed in Delhi on February 20 after visiting four countries, including Italy where nearly 1,800 deaths have been reported in connection with the virus.
The family of the woman said that the delay was because the hospital authorities, the crematorium staff and the municipal agencies were clueless on how to handle the body.
“We were not given the body. We were told that the virus still remained active. The body was shifted to an ambulance that was parked in the Ram Manohal Lohia (RML) Hospital lawns. However, when we reached the crematorium, they refused cremation and everyone was calling up each other with absolutely no clue on what needs to be done,” a relative of the woman said.
Ashok Rawat, health officer at the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, said that there was some delay in the cremation because of “lack of clarity”.
“We have drafted a letter for the hospitals treating the infected patients asking them to inform us in advance if someone dies of the disease. This will help us plan better, minimising inconvenience to the family,” Rawat said.
The “suggestive” guidelines issued by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) says that the dead body of a coronavirus-infected person should immediately be packed in a body bag and carefully zipped so that no bodily secretion from it can be contracted by the handlers. The document also advises that the body be cremated and all handlers be equipped with personal protective gear.
“Postmortem activities should be ideally waived off to avoid aerosol generating procedures, and ensuring that if aerosol generation is likely (e.g., when using an oscillating saw) that appropriate engineering controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) are used,” according the guidelines.