Lessons on Covid-19 and dead bodies

By Mbali Ngube

It has been over a year since the first Covid-19 case was announced in South Africa, and citizens have not been able to bury their loved ones in the dignity they so wish.

Funerals were restricted to 50 attendees and later 100, with strict social distancing, wearing of masks, and no open casket. Families were not able to view the body of their loved one as it would be wrapped in plastic, and undertakers were the ones standing around the coffin at the gravesite, wearing full protective gear.  

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) issued out a communique on their website on questions around Covid-19 funerals. After an article published by Eyewitness News dated 13 January 2021, where open casket funerals were now permitted on the basis that corpses of Covid-19 patients cannot transmit the virus. This follows families who wanted to exhume the bodies of their loved ones to remove the plastic wrapping.

The NICD said there was no evidence of transmission of Covid-19 from a corpse, however it is possible that one could get Covid-19 by touching the body of a deceased person. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the use of a body bag to transfer a corpse from a hospital bed to the mortuary or funeral parlour for preparation. They do this to help avoid exposure to bodily fluids.

The NICD advises these steps to protect yourself:

  • Avoid touching, hugging, or kissing the body of a deceased person who had confirmed or suspected COVID-19 before and during body preparation, especially if you or a member of your household are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after any contact with the body. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Sources: COVID-19 Funerals FAQ | NICD, WHO.org, Do I need to Take Extra Precautions Against COVID-19 | CDC

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