- President and Cabinet agree to changes to relevant regulations
- Members of the Muslim community have repeatedly called for changes to the rules which came into force 6 months ago
Cabinet yesterday approved changes to the criteria for the disposal of bodies of those who succumb to COVID-19, allowing for both burial and cremation.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who presided the Cabinet meeting also gave the go ahead to change regulations prohibiting burials.
The decision was taken after repeated requests, particularly from members of the Muslim community, to allow for burials. As such, burials will be allowed conditionally, in this case only for members of the Muslim community, further details of which will be published in a Gazette notification to be issued shortly.
As per regulations made under Section 2 and 3 of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance (Chapter 222) on 11 April, Minister of Health and Indigenous Medical Services Pavithra Wanniarachchi had previously made it mandatory that the bodies of COVID-19 victims be cremated.
Members of the Muslim community had repeatedly appealed to the President and health authorities to rethink the decision, citing World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines which state both methods can be allowed for disposing bodies.
The Interim guidance issued on 4 September by the WHO on “infection prevention and control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19,” says that people who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated according to local standards and family preferences, and that national and local regulations may determine how the remains should be handled and disposed.
Of the 35 COVIDS-19 related deaths reported so far in the country, over 15 have been Muslims who have been cremated against the wishes of their family members, and with disregard to their religious rites.
Last week in Parliament, the issue figured prominently with Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa accusing the government of playing politics and using it to stigmatise one entire community.