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A protest erupted in a municipality in Kerala's Kottayam district after local residents of Muttambalam city stopped the cremation of a COVID-19 victim on July 26. A native of Chungam, the deceased had succumbed to COVID-19 at the Kottayam Medical College Hospital on July 25. The entrance to the cremation was blocked by the residents. Despite clarification from healthcare workers, they refused to budge. The health authorities had informed that the mortal remains of the deceased will be cremated as per the COVID protocol.
A BJP councillor also came out in support of the residents' demand. Led by BJP councillor TN Harikumar, the residents protested for hours and forced the District administration to retreat. Harikumar claimed that COVID-19 would spread through the smoke and ashes. He refused to allow the last rites of the COVID-19 victim at the crematorium. The BJP leader and the locals had reportedly, questioned why he could not be buried in a Christian burial ground.
In a video clip from the protest, Harikumar can be seen yelling at a health official.
"You take it to your house," the BJP worker shouted at the official.
The protesters had erected a bamboo barricade to prevent any vehicular movement to the crematorium. Armed police later removed the barricade.
Kerala's Finance Minister tweeted on the same:
When I tweeted about BJP and Congress undermining the public trust in COVID fight, some said that I was being partisan. Now hear the latest, BJP councillor in Kottayam leads a crowd to prevent cremation of a deceased,in a public cemetery.Reason COVID may spread through the smoke!— Thomas Isaac (@drthomasisaac) July 26, 2020
The body was eventually taken to the crematorium under heavy police escort at around 10.30 pm on Sunday, July 26.
'Coronavirus could spread through the smoke and ashes during the last rites of a COVID-19 victim' - this piece of news has been viral on social media platforms since past few months.
The Logical Indian has also received requests to verify the claims.
Coronavirus could spread through the smoke and ashes during the last rites of a COVID-19 victim.
The claim is false.
As per the guidance released by World Health Organisation (WHO) on handling COVID-19 victims' bodies, except in cases of hemorrhagic fevers (such as Ebola, Marburg) and cholera, dead bodies are generally not infectious. Only the lungs of patients with pandemic influenza, if handled improperly during an autopsy, can be infectious. Otherwise, cadavers do not transmit disease.
The WHO further adds any body fluids leaking from orifices in the cadaver must be contained. There is no need to disinfect the body before transferring it to the mortuary area.
People who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated. However, WHO also mentioned that workers who routinely handle corpses may, however, risk contracting tuberculosis, bloodborne viruses (eg hepatitis B and C and HIV) and gastrointestinal infections (e.g. cholera, E. coli, hepatitis A, rotavirus diarrhoea, salmonellosis, shigellosis and typhoid/paratyphoid fevers).
Mamata Banerjee administration in Bengal had issued advisory following instances of protests by residents living in the vicinity of cremation grounds.
The Bengal health department advisory quoted from the World Health Organisation guidance and the Union health ministry guidelines and highlighted that there was no evidence of people becoming infected from exposure to bodies of persons who die from COVID-19.
The advisory noted that the main driver of transmission of COVID-19 is droplets.
"Temperature generated during burning of bodies is 800-1,000 degree celsius, under which, in no condition, can the virus remain viable," it said.
It added that there was no evidence either that the smoke generated from the pyre can cause COVID-19.
"Hence, it is clarified that if the protocol prescribed for transportation and disposal of dead bodies of Covid-19 positive persons is followed, there is no risk of any coronavirus infection spreading from the dead body as a result of cremation," the notice said.
Dr Shahid Jameel, a virologist and the Chief Executive Officer of the Wellcome Trust-DBT India Alliance, explained that a dead body can be infectious only if the body still has fluids, which can transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
"A dead body still has body fluids, still has saliva, and the virus is really there. It's not the body per se, but secretions that are a source of infections. And therefore, bodies of COVID-19 victims should either be buried or cremated with care," he was quoted as saying.
Rubbishing fears over the coronavirus spreading due to smoke from crematoriums, Dr Shahid said that "There are studies to show that the virus is destroyed in 70 degrees in one minute. When you are burning a body, that decimates the body immediately."
The police filed a case against the local BJP councillor and others under section 269 of the Indian Penal Code (Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life).
The BJP councillor has been blamed for instigating the residents.
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