The Philippines government mandates that no COVID-19 deceased, or any deceased suspected of dying from it, can be denied by funeral homes.
The Filipino government was forced to take action regarding the disposition of coronavirus bodies after the first victim of coronavirus in the Philippines, a Chinese patriot who passed in February, was turned away from multiple crematoriums.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told radio station DZMM that the company responsible for performing the cremation service was fearful that cremating the dead patient could “affect their image, [and] affect their business.” The hospital where the victim passed away had to keep the body for six days as they attempted to confirm a cremation facility.
Filipino Government intervention
As a result the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases has passed a resolution seeking to penalize funeral parlors that refuse to handle the bodies of COVID-19 patients.
The resolution, read by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles in a media briefing on Wednesday (March 25), tasks local government units and the Department of the Interior and Local Government to “monitor and penalize funeral homes that refuse to provide logistics and transport of COVID-19 remains.”
Nograles said local officials should designate which funeral service facilities are capable of handling COVID-19 fatalities. Nograles clarified that staff and personnel offering funeral services are exempted from the quarantine, which means they can freely travel to and from their workplaces.
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno warned “I will not stand for companies that are abusive and opportunistic in times like these, taking advantage of these situations. You will regret it. As long as I am the mayor of the City of Manila, you will never be allowed to do business again.”
Funeral companies are directed to provide transportation and accommodation to their staff, since mass transportation is suspended during the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.
Nograles said the Department of Social Welfare and Development will provide a funeral assistance of P25,000 ($490.00) for each indigent who dies either as a confirmed COVID-19 patient or as a person under investigation.
Cremation 12 hours after time of death
The government has mandated infected remains should be cremated within 12 hours from the time of death. Except for those with Muslim backgrounds, who should be put in an airtight sealed bag and still within 12 hours, in the presence of an Imam, be buried in the nearest Muslim cemetery.
Jojo Flores, president of the National Federation of Mortuary Stakeholders, lamented to radio station DZMM that even though there are only a small number of deaths currently, there is fear over handling the deceased within 12 hours of death will lead to snags. Stating: “We have funeral homes in Metro Manila who do not have crematory facilities” and “Not all local governments have access to public crematories.”
Fears over safety of Filipino death care workers
Flores said that several funeral homes’ staff are already lacking personal protective equipment (PPE), with some staff using raincoats as improvised PPEs. “We say they need to wear PPE, but we couldn’t find anything. We’re just improvising with whatever [protective gear] our staff is wearing.” There is no clarity as of yet about these homes will receive additional supplies to protect themselves.
The discontinuation of wakes
Last week, the Philippine National Police (PNP) clarified that group wakes (also known as vigils) are no longer allowed, as they are considered gatherings, which are banned under the enhanced community quarantine, on Luzon island. Only the immediate family of the dead and religious leaders officiating sacred rituals are allowed to attend wakes, said PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac.