Crematorium workers fear taking virus home to familyNine of 16 employees have already tested positive.
Everyday when Kumar Thapa leaves for office from Sirutar in Bhaktapur his wife Kanchi Thapa Magar prays to god that her husband returns without carrying coronavirus.
Thapa, 57, is one of the duty officers at an electric crematorium in Pashupati where bodies of Covid-19 patients are cremated. The crematorium, run by the Pashupati Area Development Trust since January, 2016, is the only one in the Kathmandu Valley to cremate Covid-19 infected bodies.
“When I return home, I have a heavy heart as at least 15 coronavirus- infected bodies are brought here everyday,” said Thapa, who has a family of nine. “The number of bodies will increase in the coming days as more and people in the Valley are getting infected.”
According to government reports, Kathmandu Valley has now become the hotspot for Covid-19 and nearly 60 percent of those infected in the country are from the Valley. The Valley recorded 1,888 new infections in the past 24 hours.
As of Friday, the number of confirmed cases in the Valley has reached 74,991. While Kathmandu has reported 212 Covid-19-related fatalities so far, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur have recorded 63 and 58 deaths respectively.
Raju Regmi, incharge of electric crematorium, said till date over 600 bodies of Covid-19 infected people have been cremated at the facility. He said from March 24—when the country went into a nationwide lockdown—one of the two electric crematorium units, was kept on standby round the clock for bodies of Covid-19 patients.
“Till date, nine of the 16 people working at the crematorium have caught Covid-19,” Regmi told the Post. “I too have isolated myself as I have severe fever and headache. But I haven’t received my test report.”
Thapa feels lucky as he is one of the staffers not infected with the virus. “But I am certain that one day, for sure, I will catch the virus.
The workers take turns to go on a week of leave after working for seven days.
On Thursday alone, 21 Covid-19 infected bodies were cremated in the crematorium.
Thapa said all the duty staff have personal protective equipment. “ It's the Nepal Army that handles the dead bodies, but we also need to come close to the bodies, and need to move them to the crematorium machine.”
The government in April issued funeral guidelines for Covid-19 patients. The guidelines state that everyone associated with handling the virus-infected body should wear PPE, along with gloves, glasses, visors and masks and the body must be sealed in a special bag. Senior senior citizens above 60 are prohibited from going near the deceased or participating in funeral rites.
“I am around my 60s, but everyday I need to come here because it’s my job. It involves a lot of risks not only for me but for my entire family, but still I need to work because I have a family to look after,” said Thapa.