New Delhi: The Health Ministry on Tuesday issued guidelines for bringing home the remains of confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients but asserted that importation of human remains of such cases is not recommended.
However, according to the guidelines, if human remains of suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus arrive into India, the airport health officer will verify the death certificate mentioning the cause of death, ‘No objection certificate’ for the transportation of human remains issued by Indian missions and embalming certificate issued by an authorized agency.
The airline shall ensure that the external packing of human remains (coffin) is undamaged and the airport health officer will verify the documents and inspect the packing in accordance with the provisions under the Indian Aircraft (Public Health) Rules, 1954.
“If there are any obvious signs of damage to the external packing, the handlers shall use full PPE, cover the coffin in plastic sheets to avoid any contact with the body/ body fluids before hand-over of the human remains to the concerned authority for final burial/incineration,” the guidelines stated.
The personnel handling the human remains should follow the laid down procedures for donning and doffing of personal protective equipment and follow other protective measures for COVID-19, like hand-washing with soap and water to ensure that they remain protected during the procedure.
The packaging (coffin) shall be buried/incinerated following the norms for burial/incineration for human remains with high risk pathogens. The handlers would be monitored for 28 days and the designated vehicle shall be disinfected.
In all such cases, the airport health officer should direct the airline to carry out the disinfection of the aircraft as per the norms. In addition, the staff handling the cargo (human remains in question) shall be quarantined for 28 days.
The ministry, however, clarified that the “ashes remaining after cremation pose no risk to the relatives who handle such mortal remains” and will be cleared in accordance with the provisions under the Indian Aircraft (Public Health) Rules, 1954.
Any death on board during the pandemic, is to be suspected of COVID-19, unless proved otherwise and the pilot has to inform about the death on board to the airport health officer for appropriate measures, the guidelines mentioned.
If the aircraft lands within the Indian territory, the crew will cover the body with sheets and blankets and move the passengers from nearby seats to other seats. If the remaining flight time is more than 8 hours, the pilot would seek permission to land at the nearest airport.
The pilot has to mention in the general declaration, the details of any illness/symptoms reported/experienced by the deceased prior to death and submit it to the airport health officer.
All passengers should disembark before the body is handled inside the aircraft, and trained staff from the airport, using full PPE, should move the deceased from the aircraft seat to a wheelchair.
At the tarmac, a nasal swab will be taken by the state health authorities and sealed in triple layered package for testing at a designated lab.
“Thereafter, the body shall be placed in an air-borne pathogen-resistant body bag and hermetically sealed and the relatives of the deceased, if not co-passenger(s), will be informed immediately. Further, the body would be transported in a designated vehicle to the burial ground or crematorium. and the guidelines for the disposal of a highly infectious dead body are to be followed.
“The APHO should properly counsel the family members/ DSO (District Surveillance Officer) and Local Police officer, for careful handling and not to damage/temper/change the packaging of the human remains. Autopsy in confirmed COVID -19 cases is not recommended,” the guidelines stated.
If the report is COVID-19 negative, natural process as per law should be adopted.
The disinfection and decontamination of the aircraft is to be done as per the approved procedures, the ministry said.
The death toll due to COVID-19 rose to 590 and the number of cases climbed to 18,601 since Monday evening, according to the Union health ministry.