A family in Kolkata was forced to hire an ice-cream freezer to preserve the body of a 71-year-old coronavirus patient for at least 48 hours as authorities allegedly refused to help cremate it, PTI reported on Thursday. The man’s Covid-19 test report was awaited when he died on Monday afternoon.
The septuagenarian had visited a doctor on Monday after he suffered from breathing problems. He gave his samples for a coronavirus test but died in the afternoon at his home on Raja Rammohan Roy Sarani before the test results arrived.
The doctor visited the man’s house wearing a Personal Protective Equipment suit, but he refused to issue a death certificate saying that it was a Covid-19 case. Instead, he asked the family members to contact the local police station, a family member told NDTV. The police, in turn, asked the family to contact the local councillor.
“But there too we did not receive any help and we were asked to get in touch with the state health department,” said the family member. Fearing contamination, several mortuaries too refused to keep the body as the family could not submit a death certificate.
The family on Tuesday morning managed to hire an ice-cream freezer to keep the body. “We made several calls to the local councillor and the state health department but no one helped us,” said a family member. “Calls were not answered. That’s why decided to keep his body at home inside a freezer.”
Finally, the test reports arrived on Tuesday night and confirmed Covid-19.
“In fact, even after getting the test reports we kept on calling the state health department but there was no response,” he said. “On Wednesday morning, we got calls from the health department and told them everything.”
Kolkata Municipal Corporation employees reached the apartment and took away the body for cremation almost 48 hours after he had died. “His body will be cremated as per the ICMR [Indian Council of Medical Research] guidelines for Covid-19 deaths,” a senior civic body official said.
The building was sanitised 50 hours after he died. “What if we all contract the disease now?” wondered Raj Gupta who lives on the first floor of the apartment.
However, the Amherst Street police denied allegations of non-cooperation. “There are certain claims being made,” an unidentified police official told The Times of India. “According to protocol, once we get the death certificate saying that death was due to Covid, we inform Swasthya Bhawan [state health department]. That is exactly what we did, when we got the official death certificate at 11 pm on Tuesday.”
A state health department official said there was some miscommunication but added that the family should have insisted on admitting the man to a hospital. “There must have been some miscommunication in this case,” he said. “We are looking into it.”
West Bengal has so far reported 19,170 coronavirus cases, including 683 deaths.
Several reports have emerged of patients’ bodies being manhandled by hospital staff across the country. Some videos from Mumbai, India’s biggest coronavirus hotspot, showed bodies wrapped in bags lying next to coronavirus patients in hospitals. In Kolkata, a widely-shared video of decomposed bodies being dragged into a van at a crematorium had sparked outrage. The West Bengal Health Department later said that the bodies were not of coronavirus patients.