- Health Minister says committee will meet this week to reconsider decision taken in March
- Says regulations were issued on advice of Health Ministry experts when nature of virus was unknown
- Opp. Leader slams Govt. saying it has politicised COVID-19 and used Muslim community as scapegoats for spread of coronavirus
- Says while other countries came together during pandemic, Govt. divided people on racial, religious lines
- Justice Minister requests Opp. not to politicise issue
By Chandani Kirinde
A Government-appointed committee will meet this week to reconsider a decision taken in March that made it mandatory for bodies of those who succumb to coronavirus (COVID-19) to be cremated, Health Minister Pavitra Wanniarachchi told Parliament yesterday.
“The decision to only allow for cremation was based on the advice of medical experts who gave us a scientific analysis of the situation at the time. In March it was an unknown virus and there was a need to study it further. A committee appointed in this regard will meet this week to reconsider this decision,” Wanniarachchi said.
The Minister’s comments came after the Government came in for renewed criticism for continuing with the mandatory cremation practise when World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines give the option of both cremation and burial as methods of disposal of bodies of those who succumb to COVID-19.
Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said while the Health Minister claims that all WHO guidelines were being adhered to when dealing with the coronavirus, the Government had blatantly ignored the one on the methods of disposal of bodies.
“The Government used COVID-19 as a political tool during the election and created divisions among people on party, race and religious lines. While other countries united in the face of the coronavirus, this Government divided the country. The Government targeted the Muslim community and spread a false notion that Muslims were responsible for the spread of COVID-19 and introduced an extremist decision by making it mandatory to cremate bodies of those who die due to the coronavirus without taking into consideration the sentiments of the Muslim community,” he said.
Premadasa said that many medical experts in the country had requested the Government to appoint a committee and study the matter but nine months later there had been no decision.
“Eminent personnel in the medical field such as Professors Rizvi Sheriff, Vajra H.W. Dissanayake, Ruvaiz Haniffa and Ravindra Fernando were among those who called for an independent committee to look into this matter and give a decision but that was not done,” he said.
Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella also accused the Government of ignoring WHO guidelines on the matter and taking steps to serve its political interest. “The WHO guidelines are clear, and the Government must implement them,” he said.
UNP Colombo District MP Majubur Rahman said that nine Muslims who succumbed to COVID-19 had been cremated so far and urged the Government to do away with the mandatory cremation regulations. “This is a psychological issue and not a political one,” he said.
Meanwhile Justice Minister Ali Sabry said the Government decision to issue the regulations in March was prompted by the unknown nature of the virus and fear of the unknown.
“COVID-19 is a challenge to all of us so we must not politicise this issue. Six months ago, we made a request that the matter be studied further by experts and a decision taken. I have made a request to reconsider this once again,” Sabry said.
The Health Minister issued the regulations under the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance making it mandatory for the body of a person who dies or is suspected to have died of COVID-19 to be cremated in March this year.