This communication from MBCOL comes after extensive meetings we have held over the past couple of weeks with scientists, medical professionals, biologists and national organisations dealing with the handling of those who have died from Coronavirus.
MBCOL is and has always been a non-sectarian body. The views we are about to express are not universally accepted. The situation is also fluid and changing on an hourly and daily basis. MBCOL does not have any ghusal facilities therefore we do not have a conflict of interest issue in relation to the situation, however we recognise that we have a duty of care to service users.
Broadly speaking in relation to deaths confirmed as a result of Coronavirus, there are two mainstream approaches:
1) Some of the scientific community feel that the most prudent approach given the level of national crisis that anybody who passes away in hospital should be placed in a bodybag that will be sealed and it is recommended by the hospital staff that these bodybags should not be opened for fear of spread of the virus through the natural release of gases or airborne elements from the deceased, which could infect any facilities the body is exposed to, including ghusl facilities.
Individuals who may carry out the ghusal may also be subject to being exposed to the virus as it is difficult to get the protective clothing someone may wear to be completely airtight. We are aware that anyone that has stubble or a beard poses a greater risk because this is something which is harder to maintain any the required level of airtightness. Mortality rates of healthcare professionals internationally working with patients and bodies and the scientific data defining how highly infectious this particular strand of virus is supporting this vigilant approach in fighting the outbreak.
Furthermore, in regards to transportation of bodies in any hearse, this will also pose a problem as the interior of the vehicle will need to be thoroughly disinfected. We must also bear in mind that the volunteers carrying out this work are highly unlikely to be professionally trained particularly given the enhanced demands.
2) Alternatively, we are aware that the existing guidelines from the Government indicate that it is safe to wash such bodies and that to transport them in certain cases with protective clothing (PPE / FFP3 Masks) is sufficient. Whilst this remains the current guidance although it has not received extensive review amidst the national crisis and emerging information, you will observe that it does not appear to the same level of vigilance as option 1.
In relation to the aforementioned, we as an organisation have outlined the different approaches taken however we feel that it is the responsibility of each organisation to carry out their own research and due diligence and then select whatever course of action is deemed appropriate for your context of expertise, experience, facilities and deployment of resources. Sincerely, our intention is not to cause fear or panic, but on the contrary to provide information and guidance responsibly to make our partners and community aware of the important matters at hand.
MBCOL TEAM 23/03/2020