Undertakers have their hands full


GEORGE TOWN: With the surge in Covid-19 deaths, undertakers and funeral service providers have their work cut out for them right from the moment the bodies are released from the hospitals until the burial grounds.

Nirvana Asia Group founder and executive chairman Tan Sri Kong Hon Kong said the whole process starts at the hospital.

“When Covid-19 patients die in hospital, we have to sanitise their bodies at least three times before putting them in a casket and sealing it.

“It is totally different from normal deaths as we are not allowed to put on makeup or dress up the dead.

“At the hospital, the remains will be wrapped in white cotton linen, followed by two body bags.

“Sanitisation will be done after each body bag is zipped.

“We then have to put the body into a casket, wrap the casket with a wrapper and sanitise the whole casket before loading it into a hearse.

“Most of our customers prefer to cremate the body and conduct prayer sessions after collecting the ashes, ” he said in a phone interview.

Kong said his staff have been working round the clock, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) while handling the bodies.

He said his company has been handling more Covid-19 death cases this year.

“We only handled 12 Covid-19 deaths last year with only a few cases a month.

“However, in May this year, we attended to 76 such deaths.

“We also have to pay extra allowances to more than 200 of our employees.

“Our expenses have also gone up as we have to get sanitisers and PPE for our staff.

“Due to the bad times, we provide free services to poor families and only collect minimal charges for those who can afford it, ” he said.

Kong also urged the government to allow funeral service providers to operate round-the-clock during the lockdown.

“Although we have applied and received the permission letter from the National Unity Ministry, we hope that the government will officially announce that we can operate 24 hours a day.

“Our business is on-call and does not keep to regular office hours.

“We are thankful that the police are understanding and always let us pass through roadblocks.

“We also hope that the Federal Government will provide Covid-19 vaccinations for those in the funeral services industry as they come into frequent contact with Covid-19 victims, ” he said.

Undertaker Kobinath Rao Jualam Rao, 28, said one of the challenges he faces when dealing with Covid-19 cases is that some family members do not understand the risks undertakers faced when handling dead bodies.

“When we arrive at the mortuary, a health inspector or Health Ministry representative will only allow a family member to see the body with full PPE besides the undertakers, ” he said.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Funeral Public Association secretary-general Jamelia Looi said the cost of handling Covid-19 deaths is higher as funeral service providers have to use more manpower, purchase extra PPE and sanitisers.

“Although the cost has increased for undertakers and funeral service providers, we still charge our customers the same as times are bad.

“Our workers have to put on full PPE when they handle Covid-19 bodies and many of them are worried about getting infected, ” she said.

Looi said in accordance with the latest standard operating procedures, not more than five people are allowed to handle the body at the mortuary.

“Only 10 family members are allowed at the crematorium and burial service.

“Those aged below 12 and above 60 are not encouraged to be present during funeral service, ” she said.

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