OC AGREES ON CONDITIONS TO BE COMPLIED WITH FOR REPATRIATION OF DECEASED PERSONS
As foreshadowed by the Hon. Minister of Health in his daily updates on Wednesday 9th February 2022, the government through the Oversight Committee has responded to the increasing request by families and relatives of ‘deceased persons’ to reconsider the current policy which does not allow persons that pass away in Honiara to be repatriated to their provinces for burial.
The Oversight Committee reiterates that the reason for restricting movements of deceased persons to provinces is to reduce the potential of transmitting COVID-19 virus to our rural and remote areas. Funerals are important events in our culture and they bring people together. The gathering of people becomes a potential ‘super spreader event’. If one or two people in the gathering are infected with COVID-19, they can transmit it to others that attend the event.
The Committee acknowledges the need to have a balance that would allow loved ones who pass away to be taken home together with a commitment by the communities to strictly observe and follow the guidelines provided by the Ministry of Health on funerals and burials.
The Committee agreed to adapt the Standard Operating Procedures [SOPs] it used to bring deceased citizens that passed away while overseas.
The Ministry of Health is refining that SOPs to be observed in any repatriation of deceased persons to provinces. It will focus on (i) management of dead bodies, (ii) the guidelines on the actual transfer of the deceased; and (iii) the receiving of the casket at the other side and guidelines leading up to the burial of the casket. This will be made available as soon as it is completed and endorsed by the Oversight Committee.
Pending the finalization of the SOPs, the oversight Committee has agreed the following broad principles and guidelines that must be complied with for the repatriation of any deceased person to their homes for burial.
- The general principles of ‘use of masks, hand hygiene, social distancing, and no gathering of more than 10 people’ remain in force regardless of where in the country the burial is to take place.
- Each request must be made to the Oversight Committee to be considered individually.
- The Provincial Disaster Operational Committee [PDOC] of the province of the deceased is to travel to, must give their approval for the body to be repatriated. If the PDOC refuses to accept the deceased to be repatriated, the Oversight Committee will not grant approval to the request. The family and relatives may request the respective PDOCs separately and the OSC through the NDOC and the National Health Emergency Operational Centre will also seek clearances from the respective PDOCs upon receipt of requests for repatriation of deceased persons.
- If the repatriation is cleared by the relevant PDOC and approved by the Oversight Committee, the following conditions must apply strictly:
- Casket travels alone – only the Casket containing the body of the deceased person is allowed to be transported to the destination. Relatives are not allowed to travel with the casket. Family and relatives at the other end to receive the casket.
- Body preparation – The body must be prepared in accordance with the guidelines from the Ministry of Health, wrapped in appropriate covering to prevent leakage of body fluids and the casket must be sealed tightly and decontaminated prior to transportation to the person’s home province.
- Guideline for communities – An Advisory sheet or Action Card will accompany the Casket to be given to the leader of the family and relatives that come to meet and collect the casket. The leader will read the advisory sheet to the people that come to collect the casket. The Advisory sheet will also be read at the burial so that everyone hears the advice relating to COVID-19 safety during important events such as the burial of deceased persons.
- Receiving the Casket at the destination point – Only 4-6 people are allowed to meet the deceased person’s casket. The same 4-6 people take the casket to its final resting place. No one is allowed to crowd around the 4-6 people.
- Reaching the village / Community – Please:
- observe COVID-19 safe practice. The leader of the group that met the casket reads out the Advisory message for everyone one to hear.
- The casket is not to be taken to a house, but taken straight to the burial site
- No one is allowed to crowd around the casket. It can be approached individually to pay respect.
- The casket must not be opened
- Only up to 10 people, and socially distanced are allowed to be at the actual grave site when the burial takes place
- After the burial gatherings of more than 10 people is not allowed
- Managing safe COVID-19 practices – Community leaders are asked to organize your communities in such events to ensure people can all pay their respect in an orderly manner that does not involve gathering together and people are socially distanced.
- Modes of transport for repatriation – The oversight Committee is conscious of the fact that many of the bodies being repatriated are not embalmed. This being the case the Oversight Committee has approved the following modes of transport to repatriate deceased persons in the quickest and safest way possible:
- Fixed Wing Aircrafts – whether Solomon Airlines or Air Taxi – Only the pilot and co-pilot travel, no relatives allowed.
- Helicopter – this is recommended as it may be able to take the deceased person’s casket right to the village – Only the pilot and co-pilot travel, no relatives allowed.
- Speedboat / Banana Boats – this can be for short distances. Only the captain / driver and co-driver will accompany the casket. No relatives to travel on the boats.
- Trucks – to reach parts in East and West Guadalcanal outside the Honiara Emergency Zone. Only the driver and co-driver will accompany the casket. No relatives to travel on the trucks.
- Ships are not yet considered as mode of transport because they have many crews, and for many destinations, the vessel may take longer to arrive.
- Casket to reach destination within a short timeframe – A very important criteria is that the casket must reach its destination within a relatively short timeframe from start to finish. No relative or family member is allowed to travel with the coffin out of Honiara.
- All applications are assessed by the OSC’s appropriate body – in this case likely the National Health Emergency Operational Centre.
- Once the NHEOC clears the request, it goes to the OSC for approval. Following OSC approval the Commissioner of Police can grant exemption for the repatriation to commence including the re-entry of the mode of transport into Honiara.
- The approval process will be refined and finalised within the next few days.
- Repatriation from provinces to other provinces or to Honiara are also being reviewed.