(Source: gettyimages.com)

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Why is Covid-19 of concern?

As most people are concerned, COVID-19 cases are rocketing over these few weeks. You may believe you can recover from virus infections in a few days, but what about the people around you? Since the first COVID-19 case, the government has associated more than 35 thousand deaths in Malaysia with this pandemic.

According to COVIDNOW in Malaysia, the risk of causing COVID-19 death rises with age. We can see that the highest death rates are among those in the 60+ age group (red curve). This red curve indicates that the vulnerable populations for the COVID-19 pandemic are their parents or grandparents rather than adults.

(Source: COVIDNOW  Malaysia )

How is funeral service affected by Covid-19 in Malaysia?

(Source: nirvanamalaysia.com)

As a human’s last ceremony, a funeral service is usually the previous gathering before a person’s burial or cremation. These include the care of dead human remains, embalming, memorial services, and preparation of final disposition.

In Malaysia, the types of funeral services, whether burial or cremation, are closely based on one’s religion and beliefs, depending on the preference of the deceased or the family. The type of funeral service is more toward our funeral plans, especially as we get older. However, if it is a burial, the body of the deceased who passed away due to COVID-19 has to complete the coffin ceremony within 30 minutes.
“It’s unfortunate for me since we’ve always taken care of all the rituals, dressed up the deceased, for them to complete their last journey. However, this is not the case for those who have passed away from the coronavirus. Many have not even seen their last time, and the procedure appears hurried”, said the principal of a funeral services company. 

They hasten the process because once COVID-19 infection is suspected or confirmed,  there is likely a continuous risk of disease from body fluids and tissues. 

Why is a funeral so meaningful?

Imagine what you would do if you lost your loved one to Covid-19. Do you know how to adapt to a life without someone who mattered to us? There is no doubt that the longer you stay with someone, the harder it is for you to accept their death. Thus, it will be a big challenge for the elderly to counter their grief.
The first step in coping with the loss and grief is to grieve and accept the death of loved ones. We need to say our goodbyes and receive support from other people—a funeral service act as a form of goodbye, even a straightforward one. Researchers and psychologists, for example, Dr Alan Wolfelt (a grief counsellor), have done a lot of research about funerals and grief: Participating in a funeral helps to counter the initial effects of distress, such as shock, numbness, and disbelief. 

Beyond sharing stories, crying, comforting each other, and offering support, funeral services help reinforce the reality that the death has happened. Humans, especially the elderly, should allow their grief at the funeral as it provides a safe and appropriate place to show or share their feelings. This is especially important in cases of sudden, traumatic death, for example, Covid-19.  

Hence, to organise a funeral ceremony for the Covid-19 deceased, we should understand how to handle dead bodies infected by COVID-19 and the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) during funerals.

What are the processes for handling deceased bodies infected by COVID-19?

(Source: wisefuneral.com) 

1) The hospital called the deceased’s family members to inform them of their loved one’s death. At the same time, the hospital transferred the dead body to the mortuary.

2) The family members are required to claim the deceased body.

3) The family members have to choose the type of funeral service, pick a funeral date and time, and discuss it with the funeral service company and the health office.

4) Most of the time, the government only allow one to three fully vaccinated family members to participate in the disposal process (burial or cremation). As of 29 June 2022, the Health Ministry lifted the limit’s ban. However, the family must wear proper Personal Protective Equipment (N95 or N100 masks, long sleeve fluid repellent disposable gowns, and gloves).

5) The remaining funeral services will be carried on with SOPs after the disposal process without the deceased body (e.g., memorial and religious ceremony)
Take Note that:
  • Religious body preparation must be conducted under the supervision of the Environmental Health Officer.
  • Embalming of the body is avoided.
  • Relatives are prohibited from opening the sealed coffin.
  • All suspected or probable infections with COVID-19 bodies are recommended to be taken for burial or cremation directly from the mortuary.

Since last year, statistics from the Health Ministry showed that COVID-19 had killed roughly six Malaysian Chinese daily. At the same time, Kong Thian Hau, the Malaysia Funeral Public Association president, stated that one to three funerals for those who died from COVID-19 must be handled daily.

How to reduce the risk of a funeral ceremony? What are the suggested SOPs?

– Attendees should always wear their face masks.
– Avoid overcrowding. It is suggested to plan your own “come-and-go approach” to guide the attendees who wish to pay their respects to the deceased. Attendees are asked to leave after a specific time, such as 20 minutes, to avoid staying on the premises.

– Make sure that the funeral ceremony is held under good ventilation.

– Ask attendees to take a rapid self-test before attending the funeral to help manage the risk.

– It is suggested that children of 10 years and below and the elderly of 60 years and above are not allowed to follow the funeral procession.







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