Private crematories asked to take COVID-19 victims, protective gear for ‘deathcare’ industry lacking

Funeral service workers bring a person who died while under investigation for COVID-19 to a crematorium in Quezon City.  <i>Photo: Rolex dela Pena / ABS-CBN News</i>
Funeral service workers bring a person who died while under investigation for COVID-19 to a crematorium in Quezon City. Photo: Rolex dela Pena / ABS-CBN News

Private cremation facilities need to begin accepting COVID-19 victims and persons suspected to have died of the disease, as an alleged shortage of protective gear and facilities in the capital region willing to handle the victims is creating delays in dealing with their bodies, an industry representative said today.

Jojo Flores, president of the National Federation of Mortuary Stakeholders, told radio station DZMM that the Health Department has ordered funeral homes to deliver deceased COVID-19 patients and persons under investigation to a crematory within 12 hours, but even though the virus has only claimed the lives of 45 confirmed cases so far, the small number of public facilities and fears over handling the deceased is leading to snags.

“We have funeral homes in Metro Manila who do not have crematory facilities, which is what we’d like to address,” Flores said in Filipino. “Not all local governments have public crematories.”

Flores said that his organization wants private crematories — many of which are turning down cremations of COVID-19 victims because of virus fears — to be opened to the public.

“Most private crematories now do not want to accept COVID cases,” Flores said, adding that several funeral homes’ staff are lacking personal protective equipment (PPE), with some staff using raincoats as improvised PPEs. “We say they need to wear PPE, but we couldn’t find anything. We’re just improvising with whatever [protective gear] our staff is wearing.”

While the World Health Organization (WHO) says there’s no current evidence of people getting infected by the virus from being exposed to corpses of COVID-19 patients, it still advises health workers and funeral staff to wear PPEs when dealing with a person who died of a suspected or confirmed case of the virus, and embalming the body isn’t recommended.

Elderly adults and those with immune disorders are also advised not to interact with the bodies, while victims’ families can view, but should not touch, their loved ones’ bodies as added precaution.

Flores said that the lack of PPEs and willing cremation facilities has led to families of COVID-19 fatalities having to wait longer for their kin to be picked up.

Read: Cremation of PH’s first coronavirus fatality delayed again, funeral parlors ‘spooked by fake news’

The problem with delayed cremations of coronavirus fatalities has been going on ever since the country saw its first COVID-19 fatality in early February. The body of the victim, a 44-year-old Chinese national, was kept in a sealed bag for days because funeral parlors refused to cremate him, believing it would be bad for their businesses’ reputation.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III at time relayed the WHO’s stance on disposing of bodies, and later said that the Chinese national’s body was “disposed [of] properly,” but did not give other details, citing privacy reasons.

Earlier this week, the Philippine National Police said that gathering at wakes is also restricted during the enhanced community quarantine imposed on Luzon island. Wakes are counted as public gatherings, which are prohibited during the monthlong lockdown, which is expected to end on April 13.

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