Embalming of the dead body will not be allowed and autopsies should be avoided. However, if an autopsy is unavoidable, stringent infection prevention control practices should be adopted.
“Large gathering at the crematorium/burial ground should be avoided as a social distancing measure as it is possible that close family contacts may be symptomatic and have potential to spread the virus" the guidelines said.
It is unclear how long the virus stays in the dead body. In the absence of data on infection from dead bodies the World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending proper disposal of bodies to prevent possible spread from secretions.
The health ministry said that viewing of the dead body by unzipping the body bag (by mortuary staff using standard precautions) may be allowed for the relatives to see the deceased for one last time.
The guidelines allow religious rituals such as reading from holy books or scriptures, sprinkling holy water and other last rites that do not require touching of the body. However, bathing, kissing and hugging of the dead body will be prohibited.
“As the cases are rising and we have also recorded deaths, government has worked on framing the guidelines for handling dead bodies as the disposal of dead bodies has to be proper for preventing further infection," Lav Agarwal, joint secretary, ministry of health and family welfare.
The guidelines have been framed in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on “Infection prevention and control of epidemic- and pandemic-prone acute respiratory infections in health care".
The WHO guidelines recommend proper use of personal protection equipment in accordance with standard precautions to avoid direct contact with body fluids while moving a body from isolation room or area.
About mortuary care and post-mortem examination, WHO recommends packing and transporting a body with acute respiratory infection to a morgue, crematorium or burial by ensuring it is fully sealed in an impermeable body bag before being removed from the isolation area to avoid leakage of body fluid.
In keeping with the recommendations of the global health body, the Union health ministry has also advised using personal protective equipment such as disposable, long-sleeved, cuffed gowns for handling bodies; if the outside of the body is visibly contaminated with body fluids, excretions, or secretions, it has to be ensured that the gown is waterproof.
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