Management of the dead during COVID-19 outbreak in Malaysia.Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2020 09; 16(3):463-470.FS
The emergence of a novel human coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, causing severe respiratory tract infections in humans, is affecting all countries of the world and has become a global health concern. Since the virus was first identified in December 2019, the number of deaths have been propagating exponentially, causing countries across the world, including Malaysia, to increase emergency measures to combat the virus. Due to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic does not discriminate its victims, it is of paramount importance to construct a plan for management of the dead for all suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, including the unidentified deceased, as an essential portion of the humanitarian forensic action approach. This document provides an overview on ways to maximize the local collective capacity from various government agencies to manage the dead based on the prevailing regulations and legislation in the country, in preparation for possible large scale deaths from this pandemic. The National Institute of Forensic Medicine Malaysia has improvised procedures and guidelines for management of the dead within the existing regulations in order to achieve a balance between medicolegal requirements and the safety of personnel managing the bodies of the deceased with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection; at the site of death, during transport, during postmortem procedures, storage and preparation before and during burial or cremation as well as environmental cleaning and disinfection, involving various agencies in the country. A form of temporary controlled burial is as an option to allow the reinvestigation of a decedent to help formally identify victims of the pandemic such as undocumented migrants or refugees who were previously not identified. Due to the different legal requirements and mortality rates between countries, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the management of the dead. Whenever possible, every opportunity and assistance must be given to families to mourn their loved ones, even in times of crisis or an outbreak, in order to sustain an appropriate level of dignity and respect.