Al Jazeera English reports that orders issued by China’s top health authority, in the first week of February, for the swift cremation of the remains of coronavirus victims at facilities near the hospitals are fuelling reactions inside China and across the world. Most epidemiologists think that such strict measures are an over reaction and are unnecessary.
On the other hand World Health Organization (WHO) and several western governments are on record appreciating China’s global responsibility towards the prevention of a world wide pandemic. Many government and public figures have also commented that the kind of strict measures Chinese governments are taking against Coronavirus would not have not been possible else where.
Al Jazeera report by Michael Standaert and Jonathan Zhong published on Feb 9th, points out that the February 2 notice from the country’s National Health Commission (NHC) requires hospitals to notify funeral parlours of the death along with family members, but had also stated that the procedure can be completed even if the family of the deceased, dying from Coronavirus, does not agree.
According to the NHC cremation order: “If family members of an nCoV-2019 patient refuse to show up for the procedure or refuse to comply, and medical institutions, cremation parlors have failed to persuade them to do so, then the body can be cremated with the medical institutions’ signature, and public security authorities overseeing the area must carry out their relevant work accordingly.”
The order also prohibits funeral ceremonies for those who have died from the virus, potentially cutting off the grieving process and any religious ceremony for families and entire communities who are mourning the loss of their loved ones, and there is little sign such an arrangement is even necessary.
China is overreacting:Epidemiologists
Al Jazeera report quotes western epidemiologists who believe that Chinese authorities are overacting against scientific evidence. “There is no evidence to suggest that the coronavirus can spread during preparations of the body for burial,” Ronald St John, former director-general of the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Public Health Agency of Canada who managed Canada’s response to the 2003 SARS outbreak, had told Al Jazeera.
“The risk for droplet transmission from a dead body is extremely low,” Dr Hagai Levine, professor of epidemiology with expertise in outbreak investigation, at the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health in Jerusalem, also told Al Jazeera. “There is a long history of fear from dead bodies during epidemics.”. But according to experts, its overblown and exaggerated.
Cremations in China
China before becoming communist was mostly Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian with a small percentage of Abrahamic religions like Islam and Christianity. Muslims currently are around 200 million. But given Buddhism, cremations were always part of Chinese society, however cremations in recent years have become popular in China – perhaps due to economic reasons. In absolute numbers, China cremates more people than any other country, in 2018 more than 4 million out of 9 million reported deaths were cremated, around 48% of all deaths. In India all Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains are cremated, making it around 75% of all deaths. Cremations are unknown or very low in Muslim, Catholic and Christian Orthodox societies.
However not all Chinese go for cremations. And the orders of National Health Commission for compulsory cremations, even if the relatives don’t agree is creating heart burn in many families.
Death Toll from Coronavirus exceeds SARS
The death toll from China’s coronavirus outbreak soared to 811 on Sunday as confirmed by the Chinese National Health Commission (NHC), this is now clearly exceeding the death toll from SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) an epidemic that spread from China and Hong Kong almost two decades ago in 2003-4, and was also caused by a kind of coronavirus.
Hong Kong has imposed a mandatory quarantine on mainland arrivals to block the spread of an epidemic that has caused global panic.
In current epidemic latest victims also include a US citizen. 60-year-old US citizen diagnosed with the virus died on Thursday in Wuhan, the city at the epicentre of the health emergency, according to the US embassy, which did not provide more details about the person.
A U.S. citizen has died of coronavirus in Wuhan, China, the New York Times reported. https://t.co/N5b7nkVp0B
— KSL (@KSLcom) February 8, 2020
A Japanese man in his 60s with a suspected coronavirus infection also died in hospital in Wuhan, the Japanese foreign ministry said, adding that it was “difficult” to confirm if he had the illness.
The only fatalities outside the mainland were a Chinese man in the Philippines and a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong.
Nearly 35,000 people have been infected by the new strain, which is believed to have emerged in a market selling wild animals in Wuhan last year before spreading across China.
The epidemic has prompted the government to lock down cities home to tens of millions of people, as anger mounts over its handling of the crisis, especially after a whistleblowing doctor fell victim to the virus.
Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan, on a visit to quarantined Wuhan this week, instructed officials to take a “wartime” approach as they implement drastic measures that include combing the city for feverish residents.
With panic spiralling around the globe — more than 320 cases have emerged in nearly 30 other countries — researchers were racing to find treatments and a vaccine to fight the virus.
Hong Kong quarantine
Hong Kong began enforcing a two-week quarantine for anyone arriving from mainland China, under threat of both fines and jail terms.
Most people will be able to be quarantined at home or in hotels but they will face daily phone calls and spot checks.
The financial hub has 25 confirmed cases with one patient who died earlier this week.
At least 722 people have died from the Coronavirus in China while more than 34,000 have been infected, https://t.co/87TrrXj9KP
— Yadu Singh (@dryadusingh) February 8, 2020
The city has been on edge as the virus has revived memories of the SARS outbreak that killed 299 in the semi-autonomous city.
Hong Kong officials hope the new measures will virtually halt the flow of people across the border while allowing the city to remain stocked with food and goods from the mainland.
The SARS epidemic left profound psychological scars and saddled residents with a deep distrust of authorities in Beijing who initially covered up the outbreak.
In the last week, Hong Kong has been hit by a wave of panic-buying with supermarket shelves frequently emptied of staple goods such as toilet paper, hand sanitiser, rice and pasta.
The government has blamed unfounded rumours of shortages.
Cruise ship quarantined
Other governments around the world have hardened their defences, with several countries banning arrivals from China and advising their citizens to avoid travelling there.
Major airlines have suspended flights to and from China.
Asian cruise ships have become a focal point as dozens of cases have been confirmed on a vessel off Japan’s coast.
Sixty-four people aboard the Diamond Princess off Yokohama have tested positive and passengers aboard the cruise ship have been asked to stay inside their cabins to prevent new infections.
Another cruise ship carrying a passenger suspected of infection with coronavirus will not be allowed to dock in southern Japan, the government said.
In Hong Kong, 3,600 people were confined aboard the World Dream, where eight former passengers have tested positive for the virus.
On the mainland, the death Friday of a Wuhan doctor who was reprimanded by police after he had sent messages warning about the virus back in December sparked a rare outpouring of grief and anger on social media.
Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who contracted the disease while treating a patient, was eulogised as a “hero” while people on Twitter-like Weibo railed against “fat officials” and demanded “freedom of speech”.
US Citizen Diagnosed With Coronavirus Dies In China's Wuhan: Officials https://t.co/hAMrUqsiax
— NDTV News feed (@ndtvfeed) February 8, 2020
Videos shared on Weibo showed a small group of people blowing whistles late Friday in front of a floral tribute to Li at Wuhan Central Hospital, where he died.
As people across China fumed, the government expressed condolences and ordered an investigation.
Wuhan’s government will award Li’s family 800,000 yuan ($114,000) in compensation covered by “work-related injury insurance”, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Researchers, meanwhile, are scrambling to develop a drug to combat the virus.
The US health department is working with pharmaceutical firm Regeneron to develop a treatment using a class of drug that has boosted survival rates among Ebola patients.
Two weeks ago Chinese doctors confirmed they had been giving anti-HIV drugs to coronavirus patients in Beijing, based on a 2004 study published after the SARS outbreak that showed “favourable” responses.
Scientists around the world are also working to develop a vaccine, which experts say could take months.
GVS News Desk with input from AFP, Al Jazeera and other agencies and sources.