Cabinet has directed that the covering of Covid-related graves with mechanical ploughs be discontinued to ensure dignified burials for the deceased.
Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula announced this on Friday when he clarified issues surrounding safe burials for Covid-related deaths. He said the safe burials must not be conducted in haste, but within the time as would be agreed with the families.
“There is now increased fear and anxiety in communities regarding this matter. For this reason, the Ministry of Health and Social Services, has compiled a document, setting out the procedures and legal requirements related to the burials of those whose deaths are attributed to Covid-19,” he noted.
Shangula maintained the burial of those who succumb to Covid-19 must be seen in the context of legal requirements regarding the handling of the human remains of those who succumb to all other notifiable infectious diseases.
Taking into account the legal provisions and the decision that all Covid-19 burials are handled by the State, Cabinet last week directed that all the instances involved in the burials of those who succumb to Covid-19 should ensure that the conduct of the burials must be in strict conformity with the adopted safe burial guidelines.
Shangula said the conduct of safe burials considers the cultural and religious norms of the families and allows the family to practice the required rituals. He explained the tenets behind the concept of a safe burial are that the handling of the body must be kept to the minimum.
“In this regard, bodies should be buried closest to where the death occurred. Thus, transportation of bodies is not permissible. The ministry is fully committed to ensuring that our actions do not cause more anguish to those who are already grieving.”
Shangula added health officials will continue to do their best and conduct these processes in a manner that does not lead to hostility and animosity.
Moreover, Shangula explained that given the virulent nature of novel coronavirus, it is vital to be certain whether or not a deceased person is infected with Covid-19.
This, he said, is necessary because the infection status will determine how the body of the deceased will be handled so that in the case of positive results, an infection can be prevented.
“It is for this reason that a clinical decision is made either to collect a sample or not from a deceased. This is done on advice from health professionals on the ground. It is, however, discouraged that bodies be re-swabbed,” he noted.
With respect to autopsies, he said the law and recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) do not encourage autopsies, except in highly exceptional circumstances, where it is required to determine the actual cause of death.