China virus funeral order fuels upset as death toll exceeds SARS

Orders issued by China’s top health authority for the swift cremation of the remains of coronavirus victims at facilities near the hospitals where they died appear to be an overreaction and unnecessary to curb the transmission of the disease, top epidemiologists have said. The February 2 notice from the country’s National Health Commission requires hospitals to notify funeral parlours of the death along with family members, but also states the procedure can be completed even if the family of the deceased does not agree.

According to the NHC cremation order: “If family members of an nCoV-2019 patient refuse to show up for the procedure or refuse to comply, and medical institutions, cremation parlors have failed to persuade them to do so, then the body can be cremated with the medical institutions’ signature, and public security authorities overseeing the area must carry out their relevant work accordingly.”

The order also prohibits funeral ceremonies for those who have died from the virus, potentially cutting off the grieving process and any religious ceremony for families and entire communities who are mourning the loss of their loved ones, and there is little sign such an arrangement is even necessary.

“There is no evidence to suggest that the coronavirus can spread during preparations of the body for burial,” Ronald St John, former director-general of the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Public Health Agency of Canada who managed Canada’s response to the 2003 SARS outbreak, told Al Jazeera.

“That is not the case for Ebola, where much care has to be taken with the disposal of the body,” St John said. “There may be a practical element for this decision, [meaning] cremation is fast and takes up less space than standard burial if large numbers of deaths might occur.”

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