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Mortuary services uneasy over funerals, cremations for Covid-19 victims


As of March 25, the official number of deaths in Japan due to the coronavirus stood at 43, with another 10 counted separately as passengers who were quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. 

Weekly Playboy (April 6) led off its article on "postmortem problems" by writing that should the pandemic in China and Italy also become a reality in Japan, it is possible those figures could soar. 

If a person dies in hospital, the general procedure in Japan is to use a service to provide cosmetic treatment and burial clothing for the deceased, after which the body is returned to the family and placed in a coffin. Then following the wake and funeral, the remains are cremated. 

But the coronavirus has impacted on this. 

"In principle, the body of a patient who has died from the coronavirus is dealt with according to requirements issued by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare," said Taiyo Sunago, president of the Satoyama Sosai, a funeral service based in Kanagawa Prefecture. 

"Normally, the law prohibits cremation within 24 hours of death to ensure there is no possibility of resuscitation, but the exception is made in the case of certain specified contagious diseases such as Covid-19. 

"Avian influenza and SARS were the same," Sunago added. "Since transmission is a concern, cremation within 24 hours of death is permitted. One more thing: Since most of them will have expired in hospitals specially designated to deal with the coronavirus, the morgues where the bodies repose undergo disinfection after being placed in the coffin. In many cases, cosmetic treatment of a body that has died of a contagious disease is waived, so packing of cotton to prevent leakage of bodily fluids and so on is not performed. I suppose this will be the case for people who die of Covid-19 as well." 

Weekly Playboy's reporter then went to Nagoya, where 12 people have died from Covid-19, and asked an official at the Municipal Health Department concerning the holding of wakes and funerals. 

"If a wake or funeral is held in a crowded venue, there's a risk of cluster infection," he replied. "Likewise there is a strong possibility that members of the deceased's family also had close contact with that person. So we understand that in some cases families have dispensed with the ceremonies altogether and arranged for the body to be transported directly from the hospital to a crematory within 24 hours of the person's passing." 

Ryoji Igarashi, who operates a similar service in Tokyo, tells the magazine that the family members of a person who expired from the virus cannot ride together in the vehicle (usually a microbus) provided as a service to transport mourners to the crematory. 

"The driver would wear protective gear to prevent getting infected and the vehicle would have to be disinfected," he said. "But because the protective wear and disinfectants are in short supply right now, we're concerned that we can't provide such service. 

"Procedures have also changed at the crematory," he continued. "In the case of death from infectious disease, crematories in the Tokyo metropolis have limited attendants to a maximum of five people outside of regular operating hours; they have also prohibited any close contact when bidding farewell to the deceased, such as placing flowers inside the coffin prior to cremation." 

Some mortuary services are simply refusing to deal with Covid-19 patients outright. 

Another concern is that while hospitals are required to notify the mortician when a death occurred due to the coronavirus. But some patients are expiring of pneumonia without a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test to determine the actual cause. "It's almost impossible for us to pose such a blunt question -- of the actual cause of death -- to a family in mourning," despaired one operator. 

In such a case, the funeral might proceed as a normal one, without protective wear for the driver or efforts to prevent the close family members from saying farewell to the deceased. 

"We're terrified of having to deal with requests from families who's deceased member who died of pneumonia but didn't undergo a PCR test," he admitted.

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You need to dispose of infected bodies ASAP. Just follow standard procedures for any infected body and have funerals with no more than three or four attendees and no wake. Practice social distancing. Like everywhere else in the world.

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@Euro Dude

I can't speak for Luddite, but as for me, yes. If one of my parents, or forbid it, one of my children succumbed to Corona or any other infectious disease, I would most definitely take that into consideration when planning the funeral. No one in our immediately family is particularly religious, so we don't have to worry about including a Buddhist or Christian or other priest. Personally, I believe this will turn out to be much ado about nothing, but I agree with Luddite. I doubt that the deceased would want others to become infected. (That idiot who went out drinking after learning he was infected and eventually died notwithstanding. Most people wouldn't want to do that to others.)

3 ( +3 / -0 )

@eurodude Yes, I would. A relative died in the UK last week (not covid19) and over a hundred people were expected at the funeral. In the end, due to the lockdown, there were four mourners. Why risk the lives of people. It's stupid.

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Viruses do not survive long if the host dies. Some diseases are dangerous in certain circumstances after death, but not COVID-19.


-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Growing up, my Mother told me repeatedly what it was like to live in New York City during the swine flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919. She told me that there were so many deaths in the neighborhood where she lived that mortuary services were out of the question. The only thing that worked was for people to carry their deceased family and friends down to the street, where a horse drawn wagon run by the city would come along, pick up the bodies, whence they were taken to a communal grave.

Unlike today's Covid-19 outbreak, which is the hardest on seniors, the swine flu of 1918-19 (aka The Spanish Flu in the USA) was especially hard on children. Mom told me that all three of the girls who lived next door died because of the flu.

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On the subject of what is being done to take care of bodies, on the news last night out of New York, they showed a clip of a large refrigerated trailer, which would normally be used to keep fruit cold, being used to keep bodies cold.

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So where is the overrun of demand in Tokyo/Japan if it was an ongoing epidemic where the government was covering it up for long until they announced of the postponement of the Olympic games?

If there was a cover up then the Mortuary should have been packed with bodies waiting to be cremated but no one is talking about it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

   Mortuary should have been packed with bodies waiting to be cremated but no one is talking about it.

No one talking about it does not mean that is not happening, for one. And for two, lets do math to see what a packed with body involve.

The average number of death a day in Japan is more than 3400. And seems to be a bunch of crematorium : https://www.mhlw.go.jp/bunya/kenkou/seikatsu-eisei24/dl/zenkoku_kasouba_database.pdf

Lets arbitrarily decide that the system will be packed with a 5% daily increase. That will mean 170 more deaths a day.

Lets drop all issue related to prognosis and exponential spread, taking in account the fatality rate of around 3,5%, to reach 170 more death a day, that will mean 4857 new cases a day.

I do not remember people going as far as this number for daily increase, more like there is thousand of cases and hundred of new cases a day.

So lets imaging an 1000 new infected a day, that will mean (still getting ride of prognosis and exponential spread) 35 more deaths a day so around 1% increase of work for crematorium.

So we are still stuck with the : "we do not know one way or another".

NB : taking in account prognosis and exponential spread will involve delay in between infection and death different for each people and the number of deaths increasing with time. Since we will be at the beginning, mixing these 2 elements will most likely create an irregular curb. Moreover the death rate also evolve with time. So that is a gross mathematical explanation.

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