The Health Ministry’s detailed guidelines are for handling of bodies of COVID-19 patients
These allow both cremation and burial, and make no mention of any risk of contamination from bodies if buried.
The body must be sealed in a leak-proof plastic bag. The guidelines allow only the face to be viewed by unzipping the bag, and do not permit bathing, kissing or hugging of the body. Family members are allowed to read religious lines and sprinkle holy water, as long as no one touches the body.
Embalming and autopsy must be avoided as the lungs of an COVID-19 patient can be infectious during an autopsy. If tubes or a catheter is removed, the wounds must be disinfected with one per cent hypochlorite solution and dressed in impermeable (leak-proof) material to ensure body fluids don’t ooze out. The nose and mouth must be plugged to prevent body fluids from oozing out.
After the body is put in it, the bag must again be disinfected with hypochlorite. The bag can be covered in a cloth provided by the family. The disinfected bag does not pose a risk during transportation or handling. But those handling it should wear personal protective equipment.
Does burial pose a risk of infection?
Bodies of people infected with microbes such as HIV and SARS-CoV-2 come under Biosafety Levels II and III. Burial is considered safe as the body is sealed. The body takes 7-10 days to decompose, and the body fluids can take 3-4 days to dry up. Theoretically speaking, the virus lives until there are body fluids. But this infection spreads by droplets. There has been no case recorded where body fluids leaked from a body contaminated groundwater and spread infection.
If the body is cremated, the ash does not pose any risk either. Infection is a risk only for mortuary workers, doctors who do the autopsy and those who handle the body. If all precautions are followed, then both burial and cremation are considered safe. Large gatherings are to be avoided because family members are possible contacts.
How soon must burial or cremation take place?
If it has to be kept in a mortuary, it should be preserved between 4-6 degrees.°C For disposing of infectious animal carcasses, the World Health Organization mandates a proper incinerator, its primary chamber at 800°C and secondary chamber at 1000°C; for biomedical waste, an auto-clave machine is used.
Inputs from Indian Express