New Delhi: The Delhi government Sunday evening issued a new standard operating procedure (SOP) for handling the bodies of Covid-19 patients. It has said no sample would be drawn for a coronavirus test from a patient after death.
The new order comes in addition to an existing order issued by the Aam Aadmi Party government in March, based on the central government’s guidelines.
The new guidelines mention three requirements to identify an individual as a Covid-19 fatality — the person tested positive for Covid-19 before death, the positive test was based on a sample taken when he/she was alive and the person was admitted to hospital with severe symptoms of Covid-19 or doctors categorised him/her as a Covid-19 suspect.
The order categorically states that “no sample for COVID-19 test will be taken of dead body”, adding that if doctors are satisfied by clinical examination that the cause of death could be Covid-19, the body maybe released as a suspected case of coronavirus.
Delhi Health Secretary Padmini Singla told ThePrint that the new guidelines were issued to tackle difficulties faced at the field level, when asked about the reason for this sudden SOP.
The Delhi government has been in news for increasing discrepancies in the death figures released by the health department. ThePrint had reported Friday that the consolidated figures for Covid-related deaths provided by the designated cremation and burial grounds in the national capital was four times more than what the official data indicates.
Four scenarios highlighted in new SOP
The SOP highlights guidelines for the procedure to be followed after deaths occurring in four scenarios — at a hospital, at a Covid care facility or testing centre, at home or if it’s an unclaimed body.
According to the order, if the death occurs at a hospital or a Covid-19 patient is brought dead, the hospital will provide a trained healthcare worker to handle the body.
“The hospital should provide a hearse van to carry the body to cremation/burial ground to ensure that no further infection is caused. A properly packed body will be handed over to relatives as per the government of India guidelines,” the document states, a copy of which is with ThePrint.
In case no relative is available, a hospital should store the body in a mortuary after ensuring proper disinfection, it adds.
The SOP also states that a hospital can decide if an autopsy needs to be carried out or not.
In case death occurs at a Covid care centre, Covid health centre or Covid testing centre, the linked hospitals will carry out the required protocol. The hearse van, however, will be provided by the district magistrate concerned to transport the body to the mortuary and then for funeral.
If a patient dies at home, the relatives are required to immediately inform the office of the district magistrate concerned.
“The district magistrate shall immediately inform the nearest hospital in the district. The district magistrate of the area shall provide a hearse van to carry the body to the hospital and thereafter to the cremation/burial to ensure that no infection is caused,” according to the new order.
A trained healthcare worker shall be provided by the designated hospital to the district magistrate.
“They will handle and pack the body ensuring proper disinfection as per the guidelines. The body will be brought to hospital for needful,” it said.
In case of an unclaimed body found at a public place and if the death does not fall in any of the categories of Covid-19 deaths, the body would be handled by agencies such as the Delhi Police and local bodies.
Commenting on the revised SOP, Dr N.N. Mathur, medical director of Lady Hardinge Hospital, said, “These are almost similar as earlier except no test will be done on a dead body if it hasn’t been carried out until then. The body will then be considered a suspected case. Earlier, we were testing dead body also for Covid-19.” He added that it was good that the government has clarified on who will transport the body to the crematorium.
Another Covid-designated hospital said it had been testing bodies for research purposes before this order came.
RML Hospital spokesperson Smriti Tiwari said they had been testing patients’ bodies for the virus but “now there are orders not to conduct (tests) post death”.
Delhi reported 19 fresh coronavirus deaths and 422 new infections Sunday, taking the toll to 148 and total cases to 9,755, according to the government health bulletin. The total cases crossed the 10,000 mark Sunday.