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COVID death toll: How the funeral industry has changed since the pandemic began

The Independent logo The Independent 1/12/2021 Anna Maria Romero
© The Independent Singapore

Singapore — The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenge for all frontline workers, and while much has been written about the added work that healthcare workers have faced, we do not often hear about how the pandemic, especially the recent rises in infections and deaths in the country, has affected those who take care of the remains of those who have died from Covid-related causes.

In March of last year, shortly after the pandemic began, the National Environment Agency (NEA) issued guidelines for handling the bodies of people who had tested positive for Covid.

The bodies can no longer be embalmed. Instead, they and are double-bagged, sanitised, and then put into airtight coffins. These coffins are then sealed with silicone so as not to contaminate the hearse which transports them. And then these vehicles, as well as other transport vehicles involved in transferring the remains, are thoroughly disinfected after each use.

Moreover, funeral workers are required to attend NEA’s Basic Infection Control Course (BICC) before they are allowed to collect, casket and transport the bodies.

When the bodies are collected, funeral workers cannot touch, or even see the bodies. The workers are also required to wear full personal protective equipment, composed of a mask, gloves, and gown.

At wakes, open-casket viewing is no longer allowed, and the deceased is identified through a label outside the coffin. Also, the people who attend wakes cannot come nearer than 2 m from the coffin.

And while most families opt for cremation, there are a few who ask for burial, which the NEA allows for religious reasons.

Currently, only 30 people are allowed to attend wakes, burials, and cremations, and in some cases where no family members are present, there are religious officials who volunteer to hold the deceased’s final ceremony, says a report in the South China Morning Post.

For Hindu households, the practice of bringing the body home to rest before cremation has had to stop for now.

As for Muslim cemeteries, people who died of Covid-19 related deaths are buried in areas demarcated for safe distancing. In these areas, “No one is allowed to set foot near the cordoned-off area other than the burial staff, not even family members,” Madam Jameela Bee Md Ismail, operations manager at Jasa Budi Muslim Casket and Marble Contractor, told The Straits Times last month. 

“Once the body has been buried, then the family is allowed to enter the area to pay respects and do their prayers,” she added. /TISG

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