The Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) has reportedly advised funeral homes that it will not accept bodies for post-mortems until further notice because of COVID-19 concerns.
Chief executive officer (CEO) of House of Tranquillity, Joseph Cornwall, said last night that the order has landed his funeral home in a predicament because a body ought not be placed on ice until after a post-mortem is done.
Tranquillity is contracted by the Government to collect the bodies of people who die at home, or from illness, or who have been victims of violence.
“How do we put a body in our cold room if the person is not pronounced dead officially? You could very well be putting somebody in a coma on the fridge, because death has to be officially pronounced by a medical doctor,” Cornwall told The Gleaner.
“What do we do now? Do we leave bodies? We don’t even know if we can call them bodies.”
DISPLACEMENT AND CHAOS
Cornwall’s dilemma is emblematic of the displacement and chaos into which the industries have been thrown because of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has caused 182,000 infections globally and around 7,000 deaths. Jamaica has 12 confirmed cases.
The funeral operator said that he is disappointed at the abruptness of the decision and the dislocation it will cause.
“This shouldn’t be willy-nilly. This is a professional thing. The only thing I could do is keep the body off refrigeration, and that would mean it would develop tissue gas and get bloated, leading into the first stage of decomposition,” Cornwall said.
“If it is not on the ice in the mortuary cooler at the optimum temperature, then we are going to have issues because it is going to get bloated and have odour.”
He explained that he could add certain solutions to the bodies to prevent decomposition, but cautioned that that would constitute a crime.
“We can’t introduce any solutions into that body because that could be interfering with evidence,” he said.
Attempts to contact the chief executive officer of KPH were unsuccessful, as calls to the mobile phone went unanswered.
Funeral parlours have been taking a financial beating since the emergence of COVID-19 in Jamaica.
Courtney Byfield, CEO of Byfield Sons and Daughter Funeral Services in Kingston, said that he has seen a precipitous dip in business and employee attendance.
He is even wondering if the uncertainty of the virus’ effects has driven gunmen underground.
“Everything slow down. On a Monday, we might pick up three to four bodies, and that didn’t happen this Monday. We were discussing it and wondered if the coronavirus is making the gunmen put down their guns,” Byfield told The Gleaner.
“We have limited time to do a funeral, and that is if we are allowed. Sunday, I was at church and some police told me I have 45 minutes in the church and 10 minutes in the cemetery. They say they don’t want any large gatherings for too long,” he lamented.
He shared, too, that although there have been no deaths associated with coronavirus infection in Jamaica, he has enforced strict hygiene protocols in handling bodies.