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How COVID-19 halted burial ceremonies

It is generally believed that the living have the obligation to give  their deceased loved ones decent and befitting burials. But the current lockdown declared…

It is generally believed that the living have the obligation to give  their deceased loved ones decent and befitting burials. But the current lockdown declared by both the Federal Government and some state governments to contain the spread of COVID-19 has deprived some people the opportunities to  take the remains of their deceased loved ones for burial.

Amongst those worst hit are relatives whose deceased loved ones are to be conveyed from one state to another for burial.

Findings by Daily Trust Saturday indicate that the development has led to the piling up of dead bodies in morgues of various hospitals and their relatives are lamenting.

A woman who lost her husband at Ado community, a suburb of the Federal Capital  Territory (FCT) about three weeks ago, lamented that the lockdown has thwarted the burial arrangement for her late husband.

According to the woman, her husband died few days before the president declared a total lockdown on FCT, Lagos and Ogun.

“The corpse of my husband was deposited at a mortuary in an Asokoro Hospital, which he normally used before he died. Our plan was to take his body to our hometown in Benue for burial before the lockdown was declared.

“There is no way we can move his corpse from Abuja to Benue since there is restriction of movement in Abuja and Nasarawa State, where we must pass before arriving our destination,” she said.

Daily Trust Saturday learnt that the development has been causing emotional and psychological trauma to family members of the deceased, particularly his wife.

In Cross River, sales of coffins are said to have dropped drastically as burial ceremonies have been put on hold due to the lockdown order.

Workers in three carpentry workshops in Calabar and Ikom in Central Cross River State, renowned for making caskets of assorted types, said they had orders before the lockdown, but owners of the caskets said they would come after the lockdown to complete payments and take delivery.

James Unyime, whose workshop is on Calabar Road said, “Sales have dropped sharply since the outbreak of the coronavirus.  This follows  government’s directives against large gatherings and big funeral services.  Our clients have preferred to postpone burials of their loved ones in obedience to  government order.

“Some of them were supposed to convey the caskets to Akwa Ibom State, but the ban on interstate movement also affected them.

“I have up to 10 caskets which deposits have been made. Two belong to corpses of reverend fathers. Their loved ones said they could not secretly bury them because they were prominent people.”

While lamenting poor patronage, Unyime said he sometimes sold up to five caskets or more in a “good week.’’

Also lamenting poor returns are grave diggers at popular public cemeteries in Calabar,  including those at government-owned Goldie Cemetery, as well as Hawkins Cemetery in Calabar South.

They said burials were no longer done on a daily basis. They also said owners of the corpses were waiting for government to lift ban on public gathering.

“Before this coronavirus period we normally dug up to 10 graves per day.  But we no longer dig up to two. Some days, not even one grave. So it is very difficult for us to eat or drink.

“We hear that because of coronavirus, people are not allowed to bury their dead ones anymore so that government will not arrest them.  But it is affecting us very much,” one of the grave diggers said.

Effiom Okon, head of grave diggers at Goldie Cemetery, told our correspondent that Goldie Mortuary was already filled to capacity following the development. He said many of the corpses were left on the floor of the mortuary.

He feared that government may have to go for mass burial after the lockdown.

There are two other popular mortuaries in Calabar, including the one at the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH) and the IDH Dr Lawrence Hospital near Edgerly Street.

At the UCTH  mortuary, officials declined to comment on how they were coping with many corpses amidst the lockdown.

In Abia, some hospitals are faced with the challenge of managing large numbers of dead bodies in their mortuaries as most families can’t take them for burial due to the current lockdown and ban on burial ceremonies.

Our correspondent visited Madonna Hospital in Umuahia, which is more affordable by the less privileged, to find out the situation of things.

At Madonna Hospital, Umuahia, a health official told our correspondent that they did not encounter much challenge in the management of corpses.

He said that during the first two weeks of the lockdown, the hospital was releasing dead bodies to their loved ones for burial until the present chairman of the transition committee of Umuahia South stopped them.

At the hospital, some individuals who had dead bodies in the mortuary spoke to our correspondent on their plights.

Mr Humble Obisike said the burial of his late father-in-law, Orji Ezike, earlier slated for April 25, had to be postponed due to the present lockdown order by the government.

“A new burial date will be communicated to people. Currently, we are making calls and sending text messages to inform people about the postponement. And it is costing me money to send messages and make calls.

“Secondly, we pay N200 daily, and by the time you calculate that, you know how much is waiting for us to pay whenever we decide to do the burial of my father in-law.

Mr Godwin Emejor also said the burial of his late brother, scheduled for April 15 after securing the approval of the entire ‘Umunna’, had to be postponed due to the lockdown.He expressed sadness that the situation made it impossible for the remains of his brother to be conveyed home from Edo State.

Findings at the Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia, indicate that the hospital’s morgue has been overwhelmed by dead bodies. Some of them are kept on the floor.

Sunday Nwakama, an engineer who was at the mortuary to deposit a close friend, said he could not find space.

He said there was the need for the management of the hospital to discuss with  members of the task force on COVID-19 to allow people bury without ceremonies in order to decongest the morgues.

Efforts to get comments of the hospital’s management were unsuccessful.

In Kaduna, the situation is different as security agents have made concession regarding conveyance of deceased persons for burials.

Our correspondents observed that burials are still taking place daily in Kaduna as Muslim who lost loved ones are allowed to move their dead for immediate burial as long as they do not attract large gatherings.

A resident, Ibrahim Hassan, told our correspondent that he attended the burial of his relative on Wednesday, who was involved in a ghastly motor accident that claimed his life.

“His corpse was brought home and we buried him. Nobody stopped us. And a lot of people participated in the burial ceremony,” he said.

Members of staff of general hospitals with mortuaries, such as Yusuf Dantosho Memorial Hospital and St. Gerard’s Hospital in Kaduna, also told our correspondent that they had not been overwhelmed by the challenge of managing large number of dead bodies in their mortuaries.

At the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Owerri, our correspondent observed that some corpses were kept outside the mortuary.

The mortician, who spoke to our correspondent anonymously because he was not authorised to speak, said they had not stopped receiving corpses.

Head of the Department of Histopathology at the hospital, Dr. Ikechukwu Nweke, said the COVID-19 pandemic had tasked the hospital in managing large number of dead bodies in the mortuary.

As a precautionary measure, Nweke said  the hospital had suspended the conduct of autopsies to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

He, however, added that the hospital was adhering strictly to Federal Government’s guidelines in curtailing the spread of the pandemic.

In Jos, the Plateau State capital, checks by our correspondent revealed that there were no issues of dead bodies overwhelming mortuaries in the state.

The public relations officer of the Jos University Teaching Hospital, Omini Bridget, and an official of Plateau Hospital who spoke anonymously, confirmed that there were no issues of dead bodies piling up in the mortuaries as a result of the lockdown.

In Edo, findings by our correspondent in Benin, the state capital, indicate that dead bodies are not piling up because of the availability of many mortuaries to keep them.

Officials at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital, Stella Obasanjo Hospital  and Irrua Specialist Hospital in Ekpoma, told Daily Trust Saturday that the situation had not affected the capacity of the  mortuaries.

However, some people who have bodies of relatives in mortuaries lamented that they could not bury their loved ones due to the lockdown.

One of them, Mr. Uzor, told our correspondent that he was supposed to bury his father during the Easter period but could not do so because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“The development is killing me emotionally and psychologically because we have to commence fresh preparations as soon as the pandemic is over,” he said.

In Osogbo, the Osun State capital, findings revealed that burial ceremonies fixed for the period of the lockdown could not take place as scheduled.

A doctor in a private hospital that has a morgue told Daily Trust Saturday that because of COVID-19, corpses kept piling up.

“Our mortuary was already filled up before the first lockdown in the state. In other mortuaries, definitely, dead bodies are piling up,” he said.

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