Guidelines for burial of COVID victims issued

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The guidelines for burial of COVID victims have been issued by the Director-General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Asela Gunawardena on Wednesday (March 03).

Copies of the guidelines have been directed to 18 parties including the Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, State Ministers Sudarshini Fernandopulle and Channa Jayasumana, Head of National Operations Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO), Inspector General of Police, Chief Epidemiologist and the Chief Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) of Colombo.

Drafting of guidelines was completed after the committee of experts appointed to examine methods for disposal of COVID victims met on February 27. 

Co-Cabinet Spokesperson, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella announced on March 02 that Iranaitivu Island was selected as the burial ground of COVID victims.

Extraordinary Gazette notification allowing the burial of COVID victims was published on February 25, amending the regulations made by the Minister of Health under Sections 2 and 3 of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance (Chapter 222).

The bodies of unidentified or unclaimed COVID victims will be disposed of at the expenses of government and the method of disposal should be cremation, the amended Circular on autopsy practice and disposal of COVID victims noted.

Key guidelines for burial of COVID victims are as follows:

• The relatives of the deceased must inform the director or the head of the healthcare institution, where the death occurred, of their desire to bury the corpse without delay.

• The director or the head of relevant healthcare institution will then obtain a written request from the relatives to carry out the burial procedure.

• The director or the head of relevant healthcare institution will make necessary arrangements to include Iranaitivu Island as the place of burial in the death declaration form by coordinating with the nominee of DGHS.

• The relatives of the deceased will subsequently be informed of the time and date for dispatching the body.

• The relatives are required to provide the coffin as soon as possible.

• The director or the head of relevant healthcare institution is in charge of transporting the corpse in the coffin provided by the relatives to a designated location in Colombo Institute of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology (Office of Colombo JMO) or Welikanda Base Hospital where the corpse will be received by a designated officer.

• The vehicle transporting the corpse to Nachchikuda Pier will leave daily at 5.30 am from the designated receiving centre nominated by the DGHS.

• Prior to the departure, designated health staff of the hospital wearing PPE will bring the corpse from the pre-designated area to the viewing area for the relatives to view the corpse. Religious activities will be permitted only at this point.

• The relatives or unauthorized persons will not be permitted to take photographs, video and video calls in the relevant healthcare institutions.

• Two of the relatives who visited the hospital where the death took place and identified the deceased will be allowed to be present at the Nachchikuda Pier in Kilinochchi District on the following day to witness the burial at the Iranaitivu Island. However, they should not be patients infected with COVID-19. Quarantined persons are only permitted under strict guidance and approval of the MOH or regional epidemiologist.

• The coffin will not be opened during the burial and the relatives or next of kin will not be permitted to handle the coffin under any circusmtances.

• The corpses must be buried 1.5m to 3m deep in the ground.

• The bottom of the grave should be at least 2m above the groundwater table.