Covid-19 cannot spread by fumes from cremation

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Claim: A mob interrupted Antim Sanskar or cremation of a Hindu trader from Dadu who passed away from Covid-19 claiming it could lead to the spread of the virus.

Fact: Although dead bodies of Covid-19 patients aren’t infectious in general according to WHO, even if the virus was present it would have been destroyed during the ritual.

On 12 June 2020 Soch Fact Check received a claim for verification regarding the spread of Coronavirus from the cremation of a Covid-19 victim’s body. The video depicts an incident of alleged mob violence that took place the previous day. The video was shared widely on Twitter and gathered tens of thousands of views after crossing platforms and making its way to Facebook. The reason why the funeral was interrupted was cited by reports as fear among locals that the virus would be spread through the smoke released by cremation.

The incident which took place the evening of 11 June 2020 was reported on social media by various social activists and journalists active in the area. We decided to fact check the underlying claim for the mob violence because it could lead to more discrimination or violence against the Hindu minority in the future. Hindus make up 4% of the population in Pakistan, and are often the subject of communal violence.

We reached out to local sources in the area. Journalist Wali Chandio living in Dadu reported that the incident had taken place in the Soorjabad area of Dadu at Masan road. He identified the victims as local trader Kewal Ram’s family conducting his last rites of ritual cremation known as Antim Sanskar. We also learned that the police had intervened on the scene and allowed the funeral to continue. A First Information Report (FIR) has been lodged by the Sindh police against the perpetrators of the attack.

Doctor Ayub Memon, focal person for Covid 19 response Sindh government, speaking about attempting to explain to the mob that cremation is allowed under government issued SOPs

Video Translation: The man tested positive for Covid 19 on 2 June 2020. He also had a heart condition. I checked him out yesterday. But the government has issued SOPs under which the deceased are buried or cremated. What harm does it do to them [the mob]? We have explained this to them.

Covid-19 cannot be spread by the practice of Antim Sanskar which is the ritual cremation done to the bodies of deceased Hindus. The World Health Organization guidelines on Infection Prevention and Control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 state “to date there is no evidence of persons having become infected from exposure to the bodies of persons who died from COVID-19” and “dead bodies are generally not infectious”.

For those interacting directly with cadavers of Covid-19 patients, e.g. those wrapping the body for burial or lowering into the funeral pyre for cremation, the document focuses on the use of personal protective equipment and most importantly frequent handwashing. These guidelines are reproduced in the federal government’s Burial and Safe Management of COVID-19 Dead Body Guidelines as mentioned in the video above. According to these guidelines it is legal to cremate the body of Covid-19 patient while following necessary precautions to ensure the standard preventive measures used for Covid-19 patients are followed pre and post interaction with the body.

Summary: Those handling bodies of suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases should take the same precautions as those interacting with Covid-19 patients who are alive. On the other hand, the virus is mainly transmitted through droplets and those cannot be transmitted by a dead body except under a few specific scenarios. According to the WHO, cremation and burial are both safe ways to dispose of dead bodies of people infected by Covid-19.

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