The World Health Organization says either cremation or burial are appropriate means to deal with victims of the Covid-19 pandemic, but Sri Lanka insists on only one.
Authorities in Sri Lanka are cremating the bodies of Muslim victims of the Covid-19 pandemic despite protests from members of the community.
As of Sunday the South Asian nation had registered seven deaths from the coronavirus, of which three were Muslims.
Despite Islamic tradition requiring burial for Muslims, officials on the island state cremated all those who died.
Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Sri Lanka’s minister of health, on Sunday said: "The corpse of a person who has died or is suspected to have died, of... COVID-19 shall be cremated."
The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests burial or cremation as effective ways of dealing with victims of the pandemic.
Sri Lankan officials have justified the policy by saying that burials take longer than cremations, and the country’s groundwater levels are ‘too high’ thereby heightening the risk of infection spreading, local outlet Ceylon Today reported.
Sri Lankan Muslims, rights groups, and others, are not accepting that explanation.
Islamic groups on the island described the government decision as a “callous disregard” for the last rites of Muslims.
Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director at Amnesty International, said:
“At this difficult time, the authorities should be bringing communities together and not deepening divisions between them. Grieving relatives of people who have died because of COVID-19 should be able to bid farewell to their loved ones in the way that they wish, especially where this is permissible under international guidelines.”
How did South Korea avoid disaster and fight back against a major Covid-19 outbreak? pic.twitter.com/Le1PCWqNng— TRT World (@trtworld) April 11, 2020
The United States Commission of International Religious freedom has also expressed concern about the policy.
Sri Lanka currently has 210 cases of the coronavirus, which have resulted in seven deaths.
At the time of writing there have been more than 1.85 million confirmed cases of the virus globally, which have resulted in more than 114,000 deaths.
The virus first emerged in China’s Wuhan province late in 2019, and is believed to have been transmitted from animals to humans.