Relatives of people dying with COVID-19 do not only have to suffer the loss of their loved ones but also endure a ‘cruel’ burial imposed by the authorities accused of following “medieval” procedures.
The Shift has spoken to the relatives of victims who said their loved ones had to die on their own as family members are not allowed anywhere near them.
They have limited time: “The body was already wrapped up within a few hours and placed in a government grave, not a family one.”
Relatives are told they will not be able to move the deceased to a family grave for another 10 years.
The process is leaving family members baffled and confused. They are not given a clear explanation as to why this procedure is necessary.
Questions sent to the Health Ministry remained unanswered.
So The Shift turned to experts abroad who defined the procedures followed by Malta as “medieval” – the belief that those who died in a pandemic have to be sealed and buried in the same site for 10 years seems to stem back from the 1500s when the island was fighting the spread of the bubonic plague.
The World Health Organisation released clear guidance on how to handle COVID-19 positive bodies back in March. These guidelines are in line with practices taken to prevent infectious disease while respecting the dignity of the deceased and their families.
“Malta, it appears, has ignored these guidelines, following instead laws dating back to the Middle Ages,” a London-based neuroscientist told The Shift.
He pointed out that the world is much more knowledgeable about viral transmission and there are systems in place which allow the treatment of a patient in a dignified manner from the point of diagnosis to post-mortem with minimal risk of infection.
“The threat of the virus lies within the live population going to work, bars and restaurants, not with the deceased who should be laid peacefully to rest with their family where they belong,” he added.
The Shift also contacted a medical professional who works at the infectious diseases unit who said it was understandable that the procedure was different because certain diseases tend to carry the infection even after the carrier has died.
Yet she was not completely sure about the procedure for COVID-19 burials is, which is why questions were sent to the Ministry.
Relatives of victims have told The Shift that COVID-19 funerals are a rushed affair as families have very little time to prepare for a proper send off.
They questioned the double standard: “Are these victims wrapped up for burial any more dangerous than the tourists flocking through the airport?”
At 3.6 deaths per 100,000 people, Malta’s mortality rate is now the highest in Europe. By Friday, the number of people who died with COVID-19 in Malta reached 41. On Saturday, the number of new COVID-19 cases reached the second highest since March with 100 new cases registered overnight.