There have been several reports of improper burials or cremations of COVID-19 patients, including the latest in Andhra, where a JCB tractor was used to transport the body. At a time like this, 23 volunteers have come forward in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh to assist in performing the last rites of the bodies of COVID-19 victims.
Speaking to TNM, P Jagan Mohan Rao, District Secretary for Red Cross, said, “The district collector is the Chairman of the Red Cross Society in the district. He decided to put out a press release calling for volunteers to assist government workers with the last rites of the bodies of COVID-19 victims.”
Post the call, Jagan said that they received 50 calls inquiring about details, and 23 volunteers who came forward. Out of the 23, some are teachers, private employees, male hospital staff and some are also unemployed. One among the 23 volunteers is a young woman, Jagan said. When TNM reached out to the woman volunteer, she conveyed that she did not volunteer expecting any publicity and would like to remain anonymous.
When asked about safety precautions to be followed as per government protocol, Rao explained, “13 out of the 23 volunteers have attended a first-aid training course. It is a compulsory training course. In the course, they are taught about the importance of PPE kits, safety procedures to be followed, etc.”
Volunteers at the training centre
Explaining the procedure that has been laid down, K Satyanarayana, Red Cross Regional Resource Centre Coordinator, said that the body will be collected from hospital, accompanied by four sanitation workers and four volunteers, and will be taken in an ambulance to either a burial ground or for cremation.
“We have volunteers from three religions. Based on the religious belief of the victim, the volunteer will carry out the last rites. We will also provide emotional support to the family and assist them if they wish to accompany us for the last rites,” he said.
When asked if they weren’t scared about contracting the virus, Satyanarayana, who is also one of the 23 volunteers said, “We are not scared. This is our way of giving back to humanity. We were pained to hear about cases wherein relatives are refusing to come forward to collect the body. That is when we decided to rise to the occasion and form a team.”
According to Jagan Mohan Rao, only those below the age of 60 are allowed to be a part of the team, and he is disappointed he can’t be a volunteer because he is a senior citizen. “If I were a few years younger, I would have been happy to have taken up the role,” he said.
In the next two days, the entire team of volunteers will complete their training and they will begin assisting district officials.
As per the latest medical bulletin released on July 7, Srikakulam reported 104 positive cases in the last 24 hours and a total of 329 cases. Eight people have lost their lives in the district due to the pandemic.