Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula yesterday said his ministry has no power to authorise families to exhume bodies of their loved ones who have died due to Covid-19.
Government this week amended its Covid-19 burial protocols, allowing families to transport the remains of loved ones who have succumbed to the virus for burial at a site of their choice.
However, questions have been asked whether families would also be granted permission to exhume remains of loved ones who were buried under the former protocol. By law, only a magistrate can authorise exhumation.
Approached for comment, Shangula, who has assumed wide-ranging powers under the Public and Environmental Health Act, responded the exhumation of bodies is not within the jurisdiction of the portfolio ministry but of the courts.
He directed all queries to the justice ministry. In response, justice minister Yvonne Dausab said her ministry was not responsible for exhumation of dead bodies, referring this reporter to attorney general Festus Mbandeka. “I am thinking about the legal aspect, taking into consideration the non-retrospective application of the law.
“But I have not applied my mind, so you best ask the AG,” she added.Mbandeka said the matter had nothing to do with his office, adding that it was a health matter.
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 in the country, government regulations opposed the transportation of Covid-19 victims’ remains for fear the bodies would transmit the virus. This essentially meant families had no right to bury their loved ones in cemeteries of their choice but within the locality of death unless cremated.
The new turn of events has triggered questions about whether those already buried at Covid burial sites can be exhumed and reburied at a location chosen by their family to tie in with tradition.
Recently, the family of Covid-19 victim Laban Shapange has appealed to the authorities to have his body exhumed from the Oniipa old cemetery for reburial at his home village of Ondobe in Ohangwena region.
The loved ones are dissatisfied with the manner in which the late Omusati education director was buried. Shapange succumbed to Covid-19 complications in September last year in Onandjokwe hospital. His remains were buried within 72 hours in line with the government’s Covid-19 burial protocols at the time.
According to the Burial Place Ordinance 27 of 1966, except where the exhumation of a dead body is ordered in terms of any other law for the purposes of forensic medicine or public health, no person shall exhume a body or the mortal remains of a body buried in a burial place without the written permission of the “administrator”.