Prey Veng villagers refuse burial for Covid-19 victim

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Villagers gather to protest the burial of a deceased Covid-19 patient in Prek Khsay Khor commune of Prey Veng province’s Peamro district on Sunday. FACEBOOK

The body of a deceased Covid-19 patient was finally taken by his relatives to his hometown in Tbong Khmum province after hundreds of villagers in Prek Khsay Kor commune of Prey Veng province’s Peamro district refused to bury him in the cemetery behind their village for fears that it would spread the virus in their community.

Prek Khsay Kor commune police chief Ly Chantha told The Post that on the afternoon of August 1, a Cambodian-Muslim man residing in Chak Khlanh village of Peam Ro commune and district had died after years of chronic illness.

He said the Peamro district Covid-19 prevention committee also sent a medical team to examine the man’s body using a rapid antigen test for Covid-19 and it came back positive.

As there was no place to bury the man in Chak Khlanh village, the family of the deceased requested that the committee chairman bury his body at the cemetery in Prek Khsay Kor commune’s Udom village, but the villagers there blocked the move.

“We gave permission and facilitated the use of an excavator rented by the family of the deceased to dig a grave on the hill. But when the excavation was completed the villagers who have relatives buried there protested and would not let the man be buried there,” he said.

According to Chantha, the villagers offered various reasons to oppose the burial.

Mao Chamroeun, 46, who took part in the protest, told The Post that through the Ministry of Health as well as local authorities he learned that Covid-19 was the “deadliest communicable disease” and if any family has an infected member, no one dares to come close because they are afraid of getting infected.

“That is why we absolutely do not want to bring bodies with Covid-19 to be buried near our village, because it could cause an outbreak in our community,” he said.

According to the World Health Organisation, Covid-19 – while potentially deadly, especially to the elderly and those with certain pre-existing health conditions – is not the “deadliest” disease nor would a properly buried body present any risk of transmitting the virus.

Peam Ro district governor Seng Teang told The Post that the Cambodian-Muslim man had a history of high blood pressure and diabetes before his death and that he was found dead in his home on July 31.

However, in order to follow health guidelines, she called a medical team in to examine the body first, and if he was negative for Covid-19 he would then be handed over to his relatives to prepare for the funeral.

However, the body was positive for Covid-19, so the district Covid-19 prevention committee must find a safe place to bury him.

“Because we do not have vacant land for burial, the authorities decided to bury the body at the cemetery because the site is state public land. Before the body was taken out, the medical team wrapped the body tightly in a coffin and sprayed disinfectant but because the villagers do not understand and were scared, they came out to stop it,” she said.

“After the obstruction by the villagers, the deceased’s family asked our authorities to intervene to bring the body to be buried in his hometown in Tbong Khmum province. Now the problem has been solved,” she said.