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Sri Lanka Holds Mass Cremations As COVID Cases Surge

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(UCA News) — Sri Lanka has begun mass cremations to clear a backlog of bodies as Covid-19 cases surge across the island.

Daily virus infections in the country have doubled in a month to more than 2,500 with nearly 100 deaths, putting huge strain on hospitals.

Colombo Municipality began mass cremations on Aug. 8, disposing of 15 corpses at Colombo General Cemetery after the island’s main hospital said it had no more freezer space.

It was the first mass cremation since December when the government overruled religious objections and cremated 15 members of the Muslim minority, including a 20-day-old baby.

Following local and international protests, the government then allowed Muslims to be buried in a remote corner of the island’s east in accordance with Islamic traditions.

The Public Health Inspectors (PHI) union said bodies of Covid-19 patients piled up at hospitals over the weekend as crematoriums working round the clock were unable to cope with a rapid rise in deaths.

“At this rate, we may have to build new crematoriums,” PHI union chief Upul Rohana told reporters in Colombo.

At Colombo North Hospital, there were 20 bodies without refrigeration while the number at Panadura Hospital south of the capital was over 50.

At Colombo National Hospital’s mortuary, all 66 freezers were filled and bodies were piling up on trolleys and tables, hospital sources said.

Throughout the pandemic the state has disposed of bodies and not released them to families.

Rohana said the surge in infections also meant contact tracing of patients was no longer practical.

Sri Lanka had reported 329,994 Covid cases and 5,111 deaths as of Aug. 9 but experts say the true figure is much higher.

The new wave comes after the government relaxed restrictions in April to allow celebrations for the traditional Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Regulations were tightened once more in May and eased again on July 10.

Father Dilan Perera, chaplain at Ragama Hospital, said many Catholic parishes and Buddhist temples are supporting Sri Lanka’s coronavirus battle.

“The Church provided water filters and boilers to start every Covid ward at Ragama Hospital and handed over Covid-19 protective equipment,” said Father Perera.

“It has given the jubilee hall of Tewatta shrine to the army as a quarantine center.”

Father Perera said that due to the pandemic hospital staff cannot go home to wash their clothes. “We gave a washing machine to support them,” he said.

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith handed over Covid-19 protective equipment worth 20 million rupees (US$100,250) to Lady Ridgeway Hospital in Colombo in June.

Hospital sources say about 45,000 children have contracted Covid-19 in the country.

“So far, 14 children have died of coronavirus,” said Dr. Nalin Kitulwatta, a pediatrician at Ridgeway Hospital.

Just over 11 million out of Sri Lanka’s population of 21 million have been given at least one vaccine jab, while 2.93 million had received both as of Aug. 8.

“Avoid attending public funerals and other functions,” said Mohan Samaranayake, director general of government information. “Those who suffer from chronic diseases in particular should never leave their homes.”

Dr. Padma Gunaratne, president of the Sri Lanka Medical Association, said the next two to three weeks would be a very bad time as there is a possibility of more Delta cases spreading rapidly.

Moratuwa Municipal Council urged religious leaders to halt all religious services and gatherings until further notice.

Lakkumar Fernando, chairman of the Association of Medical Specialists, said the demand for oxygen would exceed supply in a matter of days.

“Not only is the shortage of oxygen a problem but also the lack of a mechanism to deliver it to the patient,” said Fernando.

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UCA News

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News, UCAN) is the leading independent Catholic news source in Asia. A network of journalists and editors that spans East, South and Southeast Asia, UCA News has for four decades aimed to provide the most accurate and up-to-date news, feature, commentary and analysis, and multimedia content on social, political and religious developments that relate or are of interest to the Catholic Church in Asia.

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