Death rites pose deadly risk

Buddhist monks wait their turn to have their blood pressure taken before getting Covid-19 jabs at a vaccination site in Bangkok on Friday. City Hall has begun a vaccination programme for monks, undertakers and other temple workers. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

City Hall on Friday began a Covid-19 vaccination programme for Buddhist monks, undertakers and other temple workers who handle the corpses of Covid-19 victims.

A total of 886 people, 577 monks and 309 other staff members, were inoculated yesterday, according to Bangkok governor Aswin Kwanmuang who paid a visit to inspect proceedings in Bangkok’s Thon Buri district.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) is now aiming to have all monks and workers at 221 temples in the city vaccinated against Covid-19, as the demand for cremation services surges due to a rise in number of Covid-19 deaths in Bangkok.

Other temples interested in vaccinating their monks and workers may submit their requests to the National Office of Buddhism and make an appointment for a similar group vaccination, said the governor.

The spike in the death toll from Covid-19 has burdened temples with cremation duties amid concern over the risk of contamination.

The National Office of Buddhism has ordered temples to ensure that those who die of Covid-19 are afforded proper cremation services. However, temples are struggling to cope with the growing demand for funerals.

Recently, the crematorium area of Wat Khae Nork in Nonthaburi caught fire, which some attributed to overworked staff.

Along with the vaccination programme, the BMA’s Health Department has also issued guidelines covering the handling of infected corpses, said Pol Gen Aswin.

The workers are instructed in how to properly deal with the bodies until the ashes and relics are safe for further handling, he said.

This is to ensure all people involved in cremation rites perform their duties correctly and remain safe from contracting the virus or passing it on to others, he said.

The guidelines deal mainly with Covid-19 procedures that undertakers must adhere to, which also prohibit the opening of the sealed bags containing the corpses, which are normally handled by the hospital prior to being sent to the temple for cremation, he said.

The guidelines also cover how to screen funeral guests for potential Covid-19 symptoms and ensure all other necessary sanitary measures are in place, he said.