Helping manage the dead and their cremation: Bhutan Red Cross Society

Bhutan Red Cross Society (BRCS) like any other national society has been supporting the government in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. BRCS in Thimphu are managing dead bodies and helping family in facilitating funerals.

They have 845 volunteers across the country that was trained on dead body management. BRCS allows only one vehicle and five family members from each family to attend to the dead body until the funeral while they allow 3 vehicles and 10 family members on the day of cremation. 

Since lockdown, they have facilitated a minimum of 3 dead bodies in a day and it sometime goes up to 11 dead bodies in a day. In order to avoid misuse of movement permit cards by the attendants, they take over their movement cards and keep it with the volunteers until the end of the funeral.

Disaster Management Officer, Sangay Tshong said that under the guidance of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen and His Majesty’s Secretariat, their volunteers were deployed in dead body management and for crematorium right after the announcement of the national lockdown.

He said, “As a national lead agency in dead body management, 5 volunteers were deployed in transporting dead bodies from hospital and respective houses to the crematorium. They also facilitate the outbound travel from crematorium after the funeral.”

In addition, 7 volunteers are deployed for crematorium services and they are engaged in crowd controlling, health screening, advocacy and in maintaining social distancing. They are also engaged in advocating in maintaining cleanliness in cremation. 

“With the nationwide lockdown, family members of the deceased cannot travel to Thimphu to attend to the death of their loved ones and their funeral rites. So, considering this kind of a situation, we facilitate and assist the attendant of the deceased in arranging other funeral proceedings and rites,” he added.

He said people are aware of the situation whereby they were cooperative and they were fine with whatever rules were put in place this time.

Moreover, with local transmission this time, he said that people are careful and the volunteers did not see any need or effort in advocating to them and they were more disciplined and were abiding by COVID-19 protocols in the crematorium.    

Rinzin Chophel, coordinator at the crematorium said, “The moment we get a call from hospital, we take our vehicle and go to get the dead body. Before we have allowed three vehicles and 10 family members but since Hejo was identified as a red zone, we had to bring it down to 1 vehicle and 5 family members.”

The volunteers themselves attend to the dead body along with the five family members and facilitate all the required services at the crematorium. There were three cases whereby there was no one to attend to the dead bodies, he said, adding that Druk Gyalpo’s Kidu supported them with the funerals and rites.

“We have not faced any issue so far and it is good to witness people in the crematorium helping each other. People now really know about the protocol whereby they do not demand anything nor they ask us to allow them to bring in more people,” he added.

With the concern of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, he said that they are working 24/7 to reach their service to the people at this point of time and as far as possible, they try to make their services flexible and available anytime of the day.

Thinley Norbu, a volunteer said that “During the first lockdown we faced challenges in convincing people but this time the situation is different whereby people are cooperative and they know that what we are doing is for their safety. They appreciate and thank us.”

He feels privileged to be serving the nation at this moment and they do not mind staying up 24/7 and the support they get from family members is so positive that it boosts their energy further, he added.

They ensure that people in the crematorium follow COVID-19 protocol, he said.

Ugyen Dem who lost her father-in-law during the lockdown said that though it is sad to see loved ones having to stay out of the funeral, the situation is unavoidable. She said, “I did not face any difficulty until the end of funeral. However, the difficulty started after the funeral whereby I couldn’t get monks to conduct the post-funeral rites.”

She is happy with the support they got from BRCS volunteers and Druk Gyalpo’s office and she thanked the whole team for their generous help at such times.

BRCS was recognized as lead stakeholders on dead body management by the health and emergency management committee.

All the volunteers get tested once a week.

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