Funeral homes turning down COVID-19 remains will be penalized, task force says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 25) — The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases has passed a resolution seeking to penalize funeral parlors that refuse to handle the bodies of COVID-19 patients.

The resolution, read by Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles in a media briefing on Wednesday, tasks the local government units and the Department of the Interior and Local Government to "monitor and penalize funeral homes that refuse to provide logistics and transport of COVID-19 remains."

Nograles said local officials should designate which funeral service facilities are capable of handling COVID-19 fatalities.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año stressed that infected remains should be cremated within 12 hours from the time of death.

"Kung siya naman ay isang Muslim, dapat ito ay ilagay sa isang airtight sealed bag and within 12 hours, in the presence of an Imam... dapat mailibing din siya kaagad in the nearest Muslim cemetery," Año said.

[Translation: If the patient is a Muslim, the remains should be put in an airtight sealed bag and within 12 hours, in the presence of an Imam, the patient should be buried in the nearest Muslim cemetery.]

In February, the Department of Health encountered delays in cremating the body of a 44-year-old Chinese man who was the first to die of the coronavirus disease in the country. The patient passed away on February 1, but his body stayed at the San Lazaro Hospital in Manila for six days after his death as crematoriums contacted by the DOH kept backing out.

As of 4:00 p.m. Wednesday, 38 people have died from COVID-19 in the country. The Philippines now has 638 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 26 of them have recovered.

President Rodrigo Duterte has placed Luzon under enhanced community quarantine to contain the spread of COVID-19 upon the recommendation of the inter-agency task force.

Nograles clarified that staff and personnel offering funeral services are exempted from the quarantine, which means they can freely travel to and from their workplaces.

Funeral companies are directed to provide transportation and accommodation to their staff, since mass transportation is suspended during the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.

Nograles said the Department of Social Welfare and Development will provide a funeral assistance of P25,000 for each indigent who dies either as a confirmed COVID-19 patient or as a person under investigation.