Coronavirus: Bodies of patients to be handled according to strict protocols

Medical staff at the back of National Centre for Infectious Diseases on March 16, 2020. Singapore reported its first two Covid-19 deaths on March 21, 2020. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - The bodies of those infected with Covid-19 will be prepared for cremation or burial by healthcare workers in hospitals as part of a set guidelines issued by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The protocols include double-bagging the bodies before they are placed in airtight coffins.

The agency has also issued guidelines to funeral directories and parlours for additional precautionary measures at funerals and wakes. These include limiting the number of attendees to below 250 and implementing social distancing.

The guidelines have taken on more resonance following the deaths of two patients on Saturday morning (March 21 ) - a 75-year-old Singaporean woman and a 64-year-old Indonesian man - due to Covid-19 complications.

They are the first deaths Singapore has seen from the outbreak.

The guidelines on the handling of bodies were issued by NEA in consultation with the Health Ministry (MOH) on Feb 7 to relevant funeral services companies.

The agency also stated that collecting, casketing and transporting bodies for cremation or burial will be restricted to companies whose employees have undergone the basic infection control course by the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.

Funeral service company employees are to be properly protected when they carry out their work.

Funerals and wakes for those who died of Covid-19 are allowed as long as there is no contact with the body, said NEA.

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"However, to minimise any risk posed by contact between potentially large number of visitors during the wake, families will be advised to keep the funeral wakes short," said NEA, adding that families should also abide by the latest MOH guidelines on events and gatherings involving large groups of participants at any one time.

In the light of this, NEA has also asked funeral services companies to offer other options to families, such as holding prayers just before the cremation, for example, at the service hall in Mandai Crematorium.

Burials are allowed if there are strong religious reasons for it, added NEA.

There is a list of funeral services companies that are able and willing to handle the bodies of those infected with Covid-19. Hospitals will advise affected families when such information is required, said NEA.

If the dead patient is a foreigner, families can cremate the body and transport the ashes back to their home countries. No special permit is needed to repatriate cremated ashes.

On Friday, NEA also issued advisories to funeral directories and parlours to implement additional measures at funerals and wakes, including temperature screenings, visitor registration and safe distancing measures.

For example, gatherings in funeral or wake spaces should be limited to less than 250 people at any one time and there needs to be physical spacing of at least 1m between attendees.

The agency also discouraged buffets and said operators should consider alternative arrangements such as individual bento sets.

The NEA-managed Mandai Crematorium will implement staggered seating at its service halls and funeral directors are advised to tell families to keep attendees to below 50 people.


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