Jakarta. Dramatic footages of grieving families snatching the bodies of Covid-19 patients continued to appear on news broadcasts, painting a grim picture of the country’s struggle against the pandemic that so far has killed more than 3,300 people.
In most cases, relatives of the deceased couldn’t accept explanations that coronavirus was the cause of the deaths. They have fooled medical workers into letting them retake the bodies or worse, used force by the mob.
During an incident at Pirngadi Hospital in Medan, North Sumatra last weekend, kinfolk of a deceased patient asked medical staffs to take the body out of the ambulance, saying they would perform an Islamic prayer for the dead.
“The body was taken out of the ambulance, and the relatives used a car to take it away,” hospital spokesman Edison Peranginangin told Jakarta Globe’s sister publication Beritasatu.
The city’s Covid-19 task force said on Tuesday results from specimen test of the deceased had come back positive of coronavirus.
“Health department staffs have been tracing relatives who took away the body and mourners who attended the funeral,” task force head Mardohar Tambunan said.
Confusions over the surrounding circumstance of a hospitalized patient often triggered violent mob. On Monday night, hundreds flocked to the Mataram General Hospital in Lombok to snatch the dead body of an infected patient.
The patient was first admitted to a local hospital in Lombok after being hit by a truck last Thursday. After having trouble breathing, she was immediately rushed to the Mataram General Hospital for isolation and swab test.
The patient passed away on Monday evening. The reactive swab test results had only came out two hours after her death.
The family insisted that the cause of death was road accident. Villagers from Gunung Sari sub-district then gathered en masse to retrieve the patient's body for the final rites. Many were also seen without masks.
Penjemputan jenazah positif covid dari RSUD Kota Mataram... malam ini. Duh bahaya nih. Semoga tidak ada yg tertular pic.twitter.com/ouX9yz8Jl4— Ahmad Arif (@aik_arif) July 6, 2020
The medical team, Covid-19 task force members and village officials had tried to negotiate with the grieving family, including relaxing several protocols.
For instance, the family could wash the body at the hospital on condition that they wear personal protective gears.
The negotiation, however, failed. They were also outnumbered by the raging villagers at the building.
"We have tried to negotiate to make sure that everything adheres to the protocols. Nonetheless, there were too many people. I was even forced to sign an agreement that the body could be taken home," Gunung Sari sub-district chief Muhammad Mudasir said on Tuesday, as quoted by Kompas news website.
A similar case had also caused a stir in Jeneponto, South Sulawesi.
The Jeneponto patient was formerly admitted to a local hospital due to abdominal pain after getting stabbed by a kelor tree branch.
At the hospital, he was confirmed to have caught the coronavirus. On Saturday, the victim passed away and was about to be buried by health workers at the Kampung Beru cemetery.
Upon arrival, hundreds of armed villagers had already guarded the cemetery.
The medical team and police on duty were also threatened if they ever fought back, Jeneponto Health Department official Suryaningrat told Kompas on Monday.
Villagers forcefully grabbed the corpse out of the coffin before taking the deceased to the funeral home. The body was also buried without complying with the protocols.
Similar cases have been reported in Bekasi, West Java; Surabaya, East Java; Manado, North Sulawesi; Ambon, Maluku and in many other districts.
Many regions, including Covid-19 epicenter East Java, are battling their own waves of body snatching families.
Not Going Soft
Meanwhile, the police are not going easy on the snatchers, with tens of people already being named suspects.
In East Java, the police have already detained four people suspected of corpse snatching at a Surabaya hospital in June.
One of the suspects' test results was declared to be reactive and hence the legal process had to be postponed until he had fully recovered. The three other suspects were also in isolation, East Java Police spokesman Chief Comr. Trunoyodo Wisnu Andiko told local media Antara.
The same goes for the Jeneponto case. The police are currently investigating seven witnesses.
At a recent internal meeting with the ministers, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo urged for more robust education on the risks of corpse snatching.
"Religious leaders, public and cultural figures, sociologists and anthropologists must be involved in communicating this to the public. Do not let families snatch bodies who have been confirmed to have Covid-19," Jokowi said.