BURYING THE DEAD IN A PANDEMIC

1

The dead should not be allowed to pose a threat. They should be buried promptly

Reports of accumulating corpses in mortuaries following the lockdown imposed on citizens in most parts of the country needs to be given urgent attention. In the efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus, the lockdown being imposed in many of the states is laudable. But it must not be implemented in a way that could create room for a different kind of epidemic. With the end of the battle against COVID-19 not yet in sight, and with mortuaries already overflowing with corpses, a time may soon come when streets could be filled with dead bodies. Sadly, reports indicate this may already be happening in some of the states where mortuaries have shut their doors against new corpses.

As dangerous as coronavirus is, people also die of natural causes and different kinds of other ailments. It is therefore poor judgment on the part of both the federal and state governments to concentrate all attention on the fight against COVID-19 while discounting the reality that thousands of people die every day from other causes and would need to be buried as a matter of necessity. Therefore, the authorities should, as a matter of urgency, come up with measures and policies on burials.

Given the prohibition of gatherings for funerals, families of the dead should be advised to swiftly organise burials and hold funeral ceremonies at a later date. This is an issue that should be promptly dealt with before we create another problem while trying to solve one. In view of the mismanagement of the burial of the late Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, which attracted a needless crowd, it is important that whatever guidelines are released to the public on burials at this period be scrupulously enforced.

Ordinarily, the enforcement of burial codes applies more to the adherents of Christian faith. The habit of turning burial ceremonies into occasions of glitz and glamour where relatives of the dead seek to impress the whole world with lavished funerals is uncommon with Muslims. Thus, the lockdown and the attendant accumulated corpses in the mortuaries will not be an issue of concern to adherents of the faith who bury their dead within 24 hours of passage in accordance with Islamic rites. So, since this challenge is mostly in the south, it is important for the governors in the region to come up with practical solutions.

Indeed, these governors have a responsibility to quickly come up with executive orders, compelling citizens to bury their dead within 24 hours with only few family members in attendance to avert piling up corpses at the morgue. The governors need to appeal to the people that just as the coming of COVID-19 compelled a lockdown and principle of social and physical distancing, citizens also have a responsibility to sacrifice the fanfare which usually accompanies these burials for now. They can bury their loved ones with a few people in attendance and under strict protocols.

In the United States, as a result of social distancing caused by Coronavirus, burial services are held with mourners only given the option of either walking past the casket or drive by in cars to pay their last respect to the dead. But the challenge is in the culture of ostentation associated with burials in our country. In some cultures, burials are not done until houses are built by children which were not considered necessary when the dead was alive. But at time like this, the authorities must find a way around the problem by asking people to arrange a quick burial and defer all ceremonies till after the pandemic has been defeated.