Conversations with Trinis (in Trinidad) suggest that Covid deceased are not treated with respect and dignity; proper cultural and religious rites are not conducted for the deceased. The Covid deceased don’t pose much threat to society; it is the living that is a serious threat to society spreading covid.
As I have been informed, over the last fifteen months, families don’t get to properly bid farewell to deceased loved one because of rules (some not required and or are misplaced) in place that are strictly enforced (law is an ass). Public safety should never be compromised. But common sensical applications should also not be ignored when treating the deceased who died of Covid. The deceased does not pose as much threat to public safety as the living. The probability of covid infection from the dead is practically non-existent, minimal, extremely low – millions of times lower than getting Covid from the living. The risks of attending a funeral for a Covid victim is not any higher than that of attending a rite from someone who died from other causes or attending a religious institution for regular worshipping. Thus, families and communities can have proper and dignified burial or cremation rites for the Covid deceased.
T&T has countless Biologists and Bio-Chemists who would have studied virology or virus contamination; I have not seen anyone address this issue of Covid infection from a deceased. I may be known as a pollster and social commentator, but I am also a degree holder in Bio-Chemistry and taught said subject as well as worked in Biology labs for several years before making the transition to Social Science almost four decades ago. My brain is rusty but my recollection from my Biology studies is a virus dies with its host, and thus the chance of the Covid virus moving from the dead to the living, while possible, is very remote.
A virus is an agent that resides inside a living cell, called the host. And the body is host of countless viruses. Tens of millions of Humans are hosts to Covid. The virus cannot reproduce or replicate without a living host. In theory, once the host dies, so does the virus. The Covid virus, scientists say, survives for only a few hours (at most) without a host. Of millions of funerals of victims of Covid, only one person is known to have contracted the virus from the dead. Contrast this figure with the hundreds of millions who got infected by coming in contact with the living.
As long as proper safety measures are in place (safe distancing and wearing of PPE), normal funeral rites are safe (safer than going to a market or riding a maxi). In fact, in the US and Britain and other developed countries, almost normal funeral rites are being allowed as opposed to 50% capacity a few months ago.
When the virus broke out in January 2020 in the West, it was not clear how the virus spread. It was a mystery; scientists took a long time to understand its behavior. In fact, it is still a mystery how it is replicating and mutation and combating the several vaccines developed to stop its spread. Thus, the deceased was disposed of in closed bags, closed caskets (families could not see the face of loved ones), and closed rites from a far distance. But as scientists got an understanding of the virus behavior, funeral and open coffins have been open over the last year. The dead is now ritually washed in America and properly dressed and displayed in full view. Caskets of Covid deceased have been fully open over the last several months in the US. I attended funerals of several victims in NY; many Trinis and Guyanese who I know died of Covid in the US. I presided over the Hindu funeral rites of my mother who was a Covid victim, including repeatedly touching her body as required by Hindu scriptures. Knowing the science, I had no reservations about touching her body.
I know of others who performed similar rituals for family members who died of Covid. None of them (or myself) contracted the virus from the deceased (and I did not even wear PPE when touching my mom’s body). Several individuals contracted Covid from living family members who were Covid positive (a few of who later died from the virus).
It is natural for people to be fearful of contracting the virus from the deceased Covid victim. I too was very fearful and avoided funerals of Covid deceased in the first several months of the pandemic. But it is now re-assuring that the virus will not jump from dead to living. No funeral worker (at a funeral home, crematorium, or grave yard) has been infected with the virus from handling the deceased. A lone case was that of an exposed pathologist (who did not wear PPP) who performed an autopsy of a Covid victim some fifteen months ago. Once you wear PPE and maintain social distancing, you will be safe. And if vaccinated, the risk to contracting Covid is much reduced. People should be more concerned about contracting Covid from the living rather than the covid dead. In the US, India, and several other countries, there are normal funerals.
Thus, the TT government should consider allowing normal funerals – open coffins and public cremations and attendance in open space. Funerals for Cvoid victims and other deceased should not be any different. Families should be allowed to perform burials and cremations according to proscribed cultural and religious practices as the dead do not pose Covid risk.
Off course, attendees should take the necessary precautions to limit Covid exposure from the living.