Coronavirus | Families receive bodies of 3 Indians from UAE

Coronavirus | Families receive bodies of 3 Indians from UAE

The case had led to a controversy over government guidelines for the return of bodies during the coronavirus pandemic.

After days of back and forth, bodies of three Indians from Abu Dhabi were brought back to Delhi and handed over to their families on Monday.

The handing over took place early in the morning at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA), ending a five-day ordeal for the families, and allowing them to complete the final rites.

The mortal remains of the three men, who were expatriate workers in the United Arab Emirates — Kamlesh Bhatt from Uttarakhand, and Jagsir Singh and Sanjeev Kumar from Punjab — had also earlier arrived on April 23, but were sent back by immigration authorities because there weren’t sufficient clearances to admit them into the country.

The case had led to a controversy over government guidelines for the return of bodies during the coronavirus pandemic, as the families pleaded that the bodies should be allowed to remain and not returned to the UAE while permissions were obtained, but to no avail.

“Finally, we are just relieved that we could bring Kamlesh’s body back and his parents could see their son’s face before his last rites,” said his cousin Vimlesh Bhatt, who had driven twice to Delhi from Tehri Garhwal amidst the lockdown order to receive Mr. Bhatt’s remains. “We just wish the government agencies could have moved a little quicker to have avoided the confusion that led to his body being sent back,” he added.

Mr. Bhatt, a 25-year-old hotel employee, who was the sole earner in the family, had worked in Abu Dhabi for three years before he died of a heart attack on April 17.

Officials said the confusion last week resulted from the fact that the government had issued three separate advisories. One from the Ministry of Home Affairs on April 23 that granted immigration functions to International Check Points (ICPs), made no mention of mortal remains of Indians who die abroad, which was read as a ban on bringing their bodies back.

On April 25, after Mr. Bhatt’s family appealed to the High Court, and the Indian Embassy in UAE expressed its shock over the return of the bodies to Abu Dhabi, the MHA issued a second note clarifying that bodies could be brought back, subject to guidelines specified by the Ministry of Health. On April 26, the government appeared to change its position from the total ban further, putting out guidelines that even dealt with the possibility of bringing back bodies of patients who die of the coronavirus.

The latest guidelines, issued by the Ministry of Health said importing the human remains of confirmed/suspected COVID-19 patients was “not recommended”, but added a five-point Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in case a coronavirus-patient’s body was brought into the country anyway.

The procedure now includes the need for a “No Objection certificate” to be issued by Indian embassies or consulates, along with a certificate of packaging according to guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation.

The guidelines on allowing transport of COVID-19 patients run counter to procedures in many other countries, where the bodies are being cremated domestically, while families abroad are allowed to receive the ashes.

Speaking about the risk of bringing back bodies of those who have died of COVID-19, K.K. Aggarwal, former Indian Medical Association president said the virus is known to spread through contact with contaminated respiratory droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or from contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects.

Though people are less likely to contract COVID-19 from deceased persons infected with the virus, it is vital, according to WHO guidelines, that precautionary strategies be used to minimise public health risks and to prevent spread of disease, he said.

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