Sri Lanka yet to decide on permitting burial of Muslim Covid victims
ECONOMYNEXT – Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office is saying that Health Authorities are yet to take a final decision as to whether the government will permit the burial of Covid 19 dead, although five days ago the PM told Parliament burial would be allowed a senior official said.
Rohan Welivita, Media Secretary to the Prime Minister told EconomyNext today Monday, February 15, that the statement of the PM alone cannot make the change.
“It is up to the Health Authorities, as they appointed an Expert Committee headed by Professor Jennifer Perera to make recommendations and they have to examine that report and take the decisions,” Welivita said.
If the decision is to be made operational the government has to issue an amended set of regulations about the disposal of the remains of Covid 19 victims. That has not happened as yet.
The refusal by the government to allow burials has upset people of the Abrahamic faiths, Jews Christians and Muslims who abhor cremation.
Although the Roman Catholic Church has permitted cremation under some circumstances most other denominations prefer burial.
For Muslims, it has been a traumatic experience.
Sri Lanka is one of two countries in the world disallowing burial the other being China.
Heavy lobbying by the Muslim community as well as Opposition Parties, Human Rights activists and international organisations has not made the Sri Lanka government budge on the issue.
Therefore Prime Minister Rajapaksa’s statement in Parliament that the compulsory cremation of the remains of Covid 19 deceased will be discontinued and that burials will also be allowed made world news.
Rajapaksa intervened in an exchange between Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP S M Marikkar and Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardene as to whether this question over last rites was a Point of Order.
Rajapaksa could be heard saying “Marikkar, we will allow burials” on the live Parliamentary feed.
Marikkar asked a question as to whether the cremations have to continue because the day before that State Minister in charge of the Covid pandemic response, Dr Sudharshini Fernandopulle stated that that the Covid virus cannot become waterborne.
Those experts advising the government that burial of the Covid dead would post a danger to the general public have argued that the virus could be spread through the water table.
Fernandopulle was concurring with what the expert committee had said.
Prof Perera told Media yesterday, Feb 14, that her committee of experts appointed on December 24 had reported to the Health Department four days later that both cremation and burial could be permitted under certain conditions.
She said no studies had been done specifically on the Covid 19 virus whether it could be waterborne but studies carried out on the family of viruses including Sars Covid 1 as well as the Middle Eastern Virus had shown that it could not survive for long outside of a cadaver.
Multiple sources have told EconomyNext that Prof Perera’s report had been submitted to the apex committee ruling on the matter headed by Pathologist Channa Perera.
In an ensuing discussion on the topic there had been a heated exchange and seven out of the nine members of the apex committee had walked out of the meeting.
Since then more than a month has passed and there has been no progress on the matter.
Shortly after the PM made the statement and media reported it there were messages of congratulations from a number of sources including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and the United States Embassy in Colombo.
Khan, a much-admired figure in the Islamic world, is due in Colombo on Feb 22, and will address Parliament.
Diplomatic sources have said that Khan has promised to lobby Muslim countries to support Sri Lanka at next week’s United Nations Human Rights Council sessions and when Rajapaksa made the statement in Parliament there was speculation it was done with an eye on the Pakistani PM’s visit. (Colombo, February 15, 2021)
Reported by Arjuna Ranawana