Coronavirus pandemic

Strict guidelines to be followed for cremation or burial of victims

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

The bodies of those infected with the coronavirus will be prepared for cremation or burial by healthcare workers in hospitals as part of a set of 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 directors 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 last Saturday - 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 the NEA in consultation with the Health Ministry on Feb 7 to relevant funeral service companies.

The agency 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 also to be properly protected when they do their work.

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

"However, to minimise any risk posed by contact between a potentially large number of visitors during the wake, families will be advised to keep the funeral wakes short," said the NEA.

In the light of this, the agency has also asked funeral service companies to offer other options to families, such as holding prayers just before the cremation, for example, at the service hall at Mandai Crematorium. Burials are allowed if there are strong religious reasons for it.

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

Last Friday, the NEA also issued advisories to funeral directors and parlours to implement additional measures at funerals and wakes, including temperature screening, visitor registration and safe distancing measures.

For example, gatherings at funeral or wake spaces should be limited to below 250 people at any one time and there needs to be physical spacing of at least 1m between attendees. The agency also discouraged buffets.

The NEA-managed Mandai Crematorium will also have staggered seating at its service halls and the number of attendees should be kept to below 50 people.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2020, with the headline Strict guidelines to be followed for cremation or burial of victims. Subscribe