CAIRO – 8 April 2021: Unknown men exhumed the body of a 40-year old Egyptian nurse after she died of Coronavirus, and burned her body, stirring anger against COVID-associated stigma, and adding to the heartbreak of her family.
A police report was filed by the employee’s family who found her body charred outside the grave, a day after she was buried. Testimonies from her colleagues and manager at the General Helwan Hospital denied she had any troubles with anyone. The employee "M. A." was unmarrried, and used to live with her sisters.
Security authorities investigated her family, who were shocked with the incident, and denied they knew who would do such thing. As investigations continue to identify the perpetrators of the incident, no clues have been spotted thusfar on whether the motive was revenge or COVID-related.
However, the Al-Azhar Fatwa Global Center issued a statement condemning the incident as “disrespecting to the body of the deceased who died with Coronavirus; it is forbidden and considered a crime, which is contrary to religion, law, humanity and chivalry. Refusing to receive the body of those who die with COVID for burial, is also forbidden.”
For Muslims, cremation is not only prohibited, but also considered a desecration of the deceased.
“Exhuming bodies out of graves is a misdemeanor that is punishable by a prison term ranging from 24 hours to three years. The punishment rises to 5 years in prison if linked to a terrorist act, according to Egypt’s Penal Code,” said Legal expert Ahmed Hajjaj.
Such acts are typically reprehensible by Egyptians who honor the sanctity of the dead as it is deeply connected to their beliefs and roots back to ancient Egyptians who believed in immortality and preserving the bodies of the dead.
Experts trained in the field of epidemics are the ones who are allowed to touch or deal with the bodies of people died of Coronavirus. Using means of prevention and equipment, the experts wash the dead body, then fully-cover them with three layers all sprayed with disinfectants: a layer of linen, then a waterproof plastic cover and then a sealed plastic body bag. The body is then placed in a prepared wooden or plastic coffin that is sprayed with water mixed with disinfectants, Muhammad Gaballah, Consultant Forensic Medicine explained.
The WHO and the Egyptian Health Ministry have advised against social stigma, especially after several incidents were circulated on social media, for example, taxi drivers refusing to give a ride to people coming out of hospitals.
There were incidents where some Egyptian villagers who denied the burial of COVID deceased patients fearing the transmission of the virus to them, which prompted authorities to stress that the only way the virus could transmit from a non-living to a living person is through “touching the dead body.”
In April 2020, the burial of 64-year-old Doctor Sonia Abdel-Azim who died of Coronavirus was protested by many villagers who were fearful of the virus, which outraged many medical workers.
In response, Grand Mufti of Egypt Shawqi Allam issued a fatwa (Islamic decision) prohibiting this act.
“It is impermissible for anyone to deprive any human of this divine right of burial,” the Fatwa says, adding that bullying against the COVID-19 patients is religiously forbidden, and those who die from the virus are considered “martyrs.”
Scores of medical workers were announced dead since the virus spread in Egypt. The state has since initiated a campaign raising awareness of the endless efforts and indispensable role of the “White Army” as they are called in the mainstream media, in the prolonged fight to end the pandemic.
Families of doctors died of Coronavirus were honored in several national occasions and ceremonies.
Global calls for effective prevention and psychological health care rose since the first wave of the pandemic. Another calls, went in parallel, to fight a stigma unfairly blamed people infected with the virus.
UNICEF previously reported that there were individuals worldwide being subject to verbal or even physical abuse based on their ethnicity, being blamed for the spread of the virus.
The UNICEF also advised with some Do’s and Don’ts when speaking about the virus, like saying “People who have COVID-19” rather than “COVID-19 cases;” saying “contracting” the virus rather than “transmitting” as the latter applies intentional transmission and assigns blame.