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Body of COVID-19 victim who wished for burial in Karachi awaits repatriation from London

Israr-ul-Hassan Zaidi was draftsman and lived in Karachi’s Al-Noor Society. — Photo provided by authors

LONDON: The Pakistan International Airline (PIA) is refusing to repatriate the body of a Karachi resident who lost his life to COVID-19 in London, the victim’s heirs have claimed.

Pakistani citizen Syed Israr-ul-Hassan Zaidi, 62, was visiting the UK to see his children but unfortunately contracted the viral disease and lost his life.

According to official documents by St Peter’s Hospital, Zaidi died due to COVID-19, multi-organ failure and Type 2 diabetes.

Zaidi was draftsman and lived in Karachi’s Al-Noor Society. He was visiting London to see his daughter Afsheen Shiraz whose husband Shiraz Zaidi passed away in a traffic accident a few months ago.

A repatriation letter issued by St Peter’s Hospital reads: “The body has been enclosed in a body bag and is to be transported in a zinc lined, hermetically sealed coffin which has been carried out by a funeral directory service in the UK so that there is no risk to any persons responsible for handling the coffin.”

In an exclusive conversation with The News, the deceased’s son, Ali Raza said: “My father is a Pakistani citizen and lived all his life in Pakistan. His last wish was to be buried in Pakistan. My father’s dead body is in a mortuary in Stanmore Imambargah and we will not bury him until we are allowed to take the dead body to Pakistan.”

Initially, the family had been granted permission by the Pakistan High Commission for the repatriation of Zaidi’s body and also received a Non-Objection Certificate (NOC) in this regard.

The NOC grants permission for the transport of the body on the following conditions, quoted verbatim:

(i) The coffin is hermetically sealed with zinc oxide and is airtight.

(ii) The PIA is requested to transport the dead body as per the guidelines of the Ministry of National Health Service, Regulations & Coordination.

(iii) This is being issued at the request of a family member of the deceased.

Raza claimed that permission was initially granted to him but later on PIA officials refused transportation on the day of repatriation.

Speaking to The News, a PIA official said that the permission for repatriation of the dead body was initially granted on the understanding that the deceased was not a COVID-19 victim.

He said: “This is an infectious disease. Prior permission of PCAA (Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority) is required before transporting such dead bodies. Moreover, we have not received any instruction from our headoffice to carry such cases. SOP (standard operating procedure) also requires that PPE (personal protection equipment) be arranged for staff handling the coffin. My handling agent is not prepared for that.”

The senior official from PIA said that he needed clear operational guidelines from PIA’s head office in Karachi before transporting a COVID-19 positive dead body.

The Ministry of National Health Services in Pakistan has issued the following guidelines for the air transport of COVID-19 positive dead bodies:

– The staff involved in the handling and transfer of the dead body must wear appropriate PPEs i.e. gown, gloves and appropriate mask.

– Any puncture holes or wounds (resulting from removal of catheter, drains, tubes, or otherwise) should be disinfected with 1% hypochlorite and dressed in impermeable material.

– The body must be wrapped in two cloths soaked in 10% formalin solution. Body bags are not necessary unless there is any leakage of body fluids from orifices.

– The body should then be placed in a hermetically sealed inner containment. Disinfect the exterior of the inner containment with disinfectant formulations such as sodium hypochlorite with concentration of 5000-6150 ppm to 500-615 ppm free chlorine or 70% ethanol solution.

– Disinfect the exterior of the sealed coffin.

– The record must be maintained through a certificate detailing the date, time and manner of disinfection must be issued by the undertaker or funeral director and submitted to the freight forwarder / aircraft operator.

– The coffin is transferred to the aircraft after clearance from the aircraft operators depending on the type of aircraft, requirements of entry and prior approval of the countries of origin, transit and destination.

According to the family, they have met all the conditions which is why they had also been granted permission by the Pakistan High Commission in London but PIA is “refusing to cooperate with them, leaving the body of their beloved father with an uncertain future”.

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