Covid-19 funerals a very painful affair for loved ones in Malaysia

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PETALING JAYA: The funeral arrangements and mourning guidelines for those who died from Covid-19 will be painful for their next of kin, if not worse, say a mufti and a funeral parlour management.

According to the Health Ministry's guidelines, the bodies of Covid-19 patients can only be handled by those specially trained to handle those who died from infectious diseases.

Under these circumstances, the bodies will not be handed over to families, who will also not be allowed to touch them, bathe them (as per Islamic requirements) and dress them.

In short, family members will not be allowed to give them the typical send-off that is normally done for other deaths.

Penang Mufti Datuk Seri Dr Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor said the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has issued strict orders on how to prepare such bodies for burial.

"The body would likely be prepared by the hospital authorities. According to the guidelines issued by the authorities, in line with the advice of the Health Ministry, the body is not allowed to be brought home or to the mosque for the funeral prayers (solat jenazah).

"There will only be dry ritual purification (using dust or air) and no kain kapan (shroud).

"In Malaysia, the Islamic authorities have decided that if there is a danger to the living in preparation of the dead body, we will prepare the body with the least risks such as performing the dry purification upon the dead body while it is encased in plastic or body bag," said Wan Salim.

A circular issued by the Penang Mufti office states that the preparations of the dead body of a Covid-19 victim would be the same as those who died from the Ebola virus.

"There are exemptions from following the normal rules if there are situations which will endanger those who are preparing the body for burial," stated the guidelines, with further instructions on how to perform the rites in such cases.

As was done for a Covid-19 victim in Melaka, medical personnel wearing the full set of personal protective equipment that covers the person from head to toe will do the burial.

In Kuala Lumpur, the first team for Muslim funeral preparations for Covid-19 victims was set up by the Federal Territory Religious Department (Jawi) on March 21.

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As for non-Muslims, Nirvana Care Sdn Bhd, one of the biggest funeral parlours in the country, said it would adhere strictly to the Health Ministry procedures.

Nirvana Care's general manager for sales and service Teh Khai Lin said that the parlour had taken all precautions and preparations to deal with the funeral of Covid-19 victims.

Even though bodies will not be prepared at the parlour or brought to the parlour for wakes, Teh said all arrangements were in place to ensure appropriate social distancing during mourning.

"In this period of the movement control order, even for funerals of those not involving Covid-19 victims, we are ensuring only a maximum of 10 minutes for mourners and appropriate social distancing of having limited numbers during the wakes, with no food served.

"We hope we will never have to handle (a Covid-19 victim). However, if we do, we have fully prepared our staff.

"There will be no body lying at the wake and from what we see, it can be very distressing for those in mourning," said Teh.

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