Zimbabwe bans traditional funerals as Covid-19 cases surge

Zimbabwe Covid-19

Travellers get their Covid-19 PCR test results checked at the South African side of the Beitbridge border with Zimbabwe near Musina on January 8, 2021.

Photo credit: Guillem Sartorio | AFP

Zimbabwe has banned families from transporting dead relatives to their areas of birth for burial rituals and ceremonies as it battles to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

The decision to ban the transportation of corpses between cities followed a surge in Covid-19 cases after the December festive season that saw the country imposing a stricter lockdown on January 4.

Police also banned public viewing of bodies and the tradition of having a corpse stay overnight in a family’s home before burial.

“Police will only clear body movements for burial straight from a funeral parlour/hospital mortuary to the burial site,” said police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi.

Measures criticised

The drastic measures were, however, criticised by the Zimbabwe Association for Human Rights Doctors (ZAHDR), which said the approach was not grounded in science.

“They seem to using guidelines from Ebola and cholera outbreaks. Yet the pathophysiology of the diseases is different,” said Norman Matara, a ZAHDR official.

“Are these decisions scientifically driven? What are the benefits of disinfecting a burial site before the burial? The risk of transmission is more from gatherings during a burial and less likely from the dead body,” he said.

“Our policies should ensure compliance and restrictions of gatherings during a burial, not restricting the corpse from being moved to a preferred burial site,” he added.

‘No known risk’

The United States Centres for Disease Control notes that “there is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of Covid-19”.

As of January 11, Zimbabwe had recorded 22 297 Covid-19 cases with 528 deaths and 13,213 recoveries.

Zimbabwe's health system is already struggling to cope with the surge in Covid-19 cases as hospitals are running out of beds for patients who need hospitalisation.

Authorities say they are investigating whether new Covid-19 strains are driving the infections in Zimbabwe.

South Africa and the United Kingdom, two countries that have large populations of Zimbabwean immigrants, have in recent months discovered new Covid-19 variants that are said to spread much faster.

After reopening its borders for the first time in December after closing them for over eight months to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, Zimbabwe saw a huge number of citizens trekking home for the Christmas holidays.

The borders were closed again on January 5 after Covid-19 infections went out of control, but doctors said the measures were too little too late.

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