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Faith vs safety in burials: COVID-19 remains in dead bodies for 9 days says Centre

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New Delhi, Jan 18: The Supreme Court was informed by the Centre that the COVID-19 virus remains active in dead bodies for 9 days.

A Bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant requested Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Fali S Nariman appearing for Surat Parsi Panchayat to hold deliberations with concerned health ministry officials to find a middle path. The deliberations are aimed at finding a middle path in which the concerns of the Union Government will be raised to prevent the spread of the infection and the Parsi Zoroastrian ritual of disposal of bodies could be maintained.

Faith vs safety in burials: COVID-19 remains in dead bodies for 9 days says Centre

The Centre said that its standard operating procedure for cremation and burial of the dead infected persons excluded the Parsi ritual of leaving the dead in the Tower of Silence to get decayed.

The Centre in its affidavit said that the basic elements of the SOP is that the body should be fully covered and not exposed so that people who are handling the bodies of the persons who died due to COVID-19, which may or may not include the family members must not come in contact with the bodily fluids.

The Centre further said "coronavirus, according to scientific evidence that has emerged so far, can survive on a dead body, in bodily fluids, secretions and moist cells of the dead body for up to nine days.

A dead body will be considered as an inanimate surface and secretions from orifices will carry infected cells and will remain smeared on the body surfaces after death. An increased risk of Covid infection from a dead body to health workers or family members is unlikely when they follow standard precautions and SOPs while handling a dead body."

Nariman appearing for the petitioners said that the funeral rites of the Parsi Zoroastrians who have died due to COVID-19 would be carried out in the Towers of Silence. He also said that the proposed guidelines meet the concerns of the Union Government over health and safety while also preserving the sanctity of the Zoroastrian faith. He also alleged that the guidelines issued by the Health Ministry do not take into account the concerns of the Parsi community with regard to the modalities ordained for funeral rites.

"The OIE has observed that the people who are suspected or confirmed to be infected with the COVID-19 virus should minimise close direct contact with animals, including wildlife. It has also been observed that several animal species have demonstrated susceptibility to the virus through experimental infection, and in natural settings when in contact with infected humans, although these infections are not the driver of the current Covid-19 pandemic which is human-to-human transmission," the affidavit quoted by the Times of India read.

"There is also evidence that infected animals can transmit the virus to other animals in natural settings through contact, such as mink to mink transmission, and mink to cat transmission, However, not all species appear to be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2," the affidavit also read.

"The OIE has also noted that there are valid concerns about the establishment of SARS-CoV-2 reservoirs in wild or domestic animals, which could pose a continued public health risk and lead to future spillover events to humans. The virus introduction to a new animal species from a dead body might accelerate its evolution, which could potentially impact surveillance and control strategies. In view of the aforesaid concerns, keeping the dead body exposed (without cover) without burial or cremation will not be a permissible way of disposal of dead bodies of Covid positive patients," the Centre also said in its affidavit before the Supreme Court.

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