Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu on Friday said he was deeply concerned and agonised over the 36-hour delay in finding a resting place for a doctor who died due to Covid-19 in Meghalaya.

The 69-year-old doctor had tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday evening and died on Wednesday morning. He was then the state’s only Covid-19 patient, but some of his family members have since tested positive too. The doctor was buried nearly 36 hours later at a church cemetery, according to The Indian Express.

The delay took place as both the state administration and the doctor’s family were unable to find a place to lay him to rest. The family initially wanted to bury him in Nongpoh in Ri Bhoi district, where they have a home, but other residents in the area refused. They then decided to cremate him in Shillong’s Jhalupara area but were again denied by people living nearby.

Referring to the news report, Naidu said he was “deeply disturbed”. “It was reported that the physician’s body lay for several hours in the hospital he had founded after attempts to bury or/cremate him were unsuccessful due to local resistance,” Naidu wrote in a post on Facebook. “This unfortunate behaviour from the locals forced the Chief Minister to finally intervene in the mater and help resolve the matter. Such incidents are a blot on the society’s consciousness and of great concern for all of us irrespective of party, religion and region.”

“There is an urgent need to educate the people and remove misconceptions on Covid-19 to prevent such inhuman incidents in future,” he added. “It is a matter of deep anguish that such an incident occurred in spite of the advisory issued by the Central Government in March for the management of dead bodies infected with novel Coronavirus.”

The vice president then urged citizens to be empathic and respond compassionately instead of reacting irrationally. “People must act responsibly and not believe in rumours,” Naidu added. “The need of the hour is to create greater social awareness among the general public by various stakeholders.”

After reports that the doctor was infected with the coronavirus emerged, his family was targeted and attacked on local social media groups.

The doctor’s son-in-law, in a statement, criticised the social media vilification of their family. “It has been 12 hours since my father-in-law passed away, silently,” he wrote. “My wife just lost her father. We do not know whether his cremation is over. We were not there to weep beside his body. It has also been almost 48 hours since the news was made public and the media and social media jumped in to vilify us. The ripples have reached my family in Manipur and Nagaland. Nobody has been spared.”

He added: “The coronavirus is a tiny virus – unseen, lifeless yet intelligent; it has made us humans, the greatest creation of God, show our ugliest side…My father-in-law literally spent his life in the treatment of his patients. This is not an acceptable way to honour his memory.”

The Meghalaya High Court also criticised the state administration as well as the local bodies that had denied permissions for the incident.