Panic after cleric’s burial in shadow of Covid-19

16 Apr 2020

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NAROWAL: The area where the cleric lived is being disinfected. — Dawn
NAROWAL: The area where the cleric lived is being disinfected. — Dawn

NAROWAL: The aftermath of the death of a cleric who was suspected to be suffering from Covid-19 and the trauma suffered by his family, not only manifest the insufficient arrangements the government has to handle such issues, but also the panic such incidents could cause.

Muhammad Yahya Muhsin, 74, the prayer leader at the Jamia Masjid Hanfia Qasmia, Narowal, was admitted to the Sughra Shafi Medical Complex, for the treatment of backbone pain on April 8.

Cleric’s son Muhammad Zakariya said the doctors referred his father to the Narowal District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital as a suspected Covid-19 case. At the DHQ hospital, the cleric tested negative on April 9, and subsequently, he was shifted from the isolation ward to the ICU.

On April 11, the doctors prescribed treatment at some Lahore hospital after his condition deteriorated. The family, however, rushed him to the Sughra Shafi Medical Complex.

On April 12, the patient was again referred to a private hospital of Lahore but he was received dead at the Doctors Hospital in Lahore the same day.

The sons of the deceased were carrying the body in an ambulance to Narowal when near Sialkot Railway Crossing in Narowal at 11pm, the police seized the body for being a (suspected) Covid-19 case and shifted it to the Narowal DHQ Hospital.

This triggered anger among the cleric’s followers and they besieged the city police station.

The police, however, said the burial would take place according to official SOPs as even suspected cases were being dealt under the SOPs. The family insisted that Yahya Muhsin was not suffering from coronavirus, so they would take the body to home.

Tension lasted for many hours and later on the body was handed over to the family late on April 12 with the condition that physical distance would be observed in last rites and that the funeral would take place immediately after Fajr prayers. Only 10 people would be allowed in the funeral rites. The administration gave them protective gears to don, while handling the body. Except for two people, no other people observed the directions, while more than 100 people attended funeral prayer.

The story does not end here.

On April 13, reports on social media went viral that Yahya Muhsin was a Covid-19 case. Soon after the report, the district administration quarantined the family of the cleric in their home and sealed and disinfected the Hanfia Qasmia mosque, a part of the main bazaar and the street of cleric’s home. Officials have taken swabs of cleric’s family members too for Covid-19 testing.

Mr Zakariya blamed doctors for his father’s Covid-19 death hoax. He said his father was suffering from backbone pain but once doctors suspected him to be a Covid-19 case, they stopped his medication.

Locals have criticised the administration for the fiasco.

Nasir Khan and Mohammed Arshad said if the cleric was a Covid-19 case, why the police let the family handle the burial and allowed more than 100 people to be in the proximity of the body.

They said the police and the administration have put the masses at risk. Some residents dubbed the treatment of the body an insult to the deceased.

DHQ Medical Superintendent Dr Mohammed Afzal said they had four ventilators with all arrangements to operate them.

District Emergency Officer Adnan Nawaz said they were never alerted about the death of Maulana due to coronavirus, otherwise they would have taken care of the body.

Health Chief executive officer Dr Mohammed Aslam Chaudhry refused to comment while Deputy Commissioner Shahid Zaman Lak said he was looking into the matter.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2020