The vehicle available is a modified Bolero, which was used as a hearse but it does not have a barricade Credit: Representational image

Gangtok: Sikkim has been reeling under COVID 19 for months now, with all necessary procedures being followed from lockdown to quarantine to treatment of patients. But what concerns the state at this juncture is the handling its first COVID death. A 74-year-old former school headmaster succumbed to COVID related issues along with co-morbid conditions of diabetes and hypertension on Sunday morning.

Firstly, as per the national guidelines, the burial procedure must follow, but the family took the decision to carry out cremation as per Hindu customs, as the deceased is a Hindu. The same will be carried out by the family of the deceased, at Jalipool Crematorium at 3.30 pm later on Sunday.

The lapse in the government’s procedure is seen on the unavailability of a proper hearse to ferry the dead body. In the presence of the EastMojo journalist, the Medical Superintendent of STNM Hospital Dr CS Sharma in conversation over phone with Health Director General Dr Pempa Tshering Bhutia and Gangtok Mayor Shakti Singh Chaudhary admitted to not having a dedicated vehicle to carry the dead body.

The government driver of the otherwise ambulance of the STNM Hospital, identified as Lakpa, said, “The vehicle we have is small and with no barricade separating the dead body and the drivers. It’s a modified Mahindra Bolero, which was used as a hearse vehicle. But with COVID patient, we can’t use it, as there is no protection. We cannot even use the ambulance for such purpose”.

Also Read: Sikkim’s 1st COVID-19 death: 74-yr-old Rongli man was a popular headmaster

Health Director General Dr Bhutia and STNM Medical Superintendent Dr Sharma urged the drivers to wear double layers of PPE, to ascertain their safety, while the vehicle will be sanitized.

GMC on the contrary refused its vehicle from being used, with Gangtok Mayor Shakti Singh Chaudhary admitting, “Our hearse is small and open and if we give any other pick up truck, then the same cannot be reused for carrying garbage later, until it is well sanitized. We will help the victim with all the necessary items for final rites to the family, we are even looking for a pundit to carry out the final rites. Let’s see how that works out”.

Finally, a decision was reached to use the STNM Hospital’s hearse, with drivers using double layers of PPE suits.

About the final rites of the second patient, a 24-year-old suspected case of COVID staying in Rhenock, the steps ahead is yet to finalize, as her guardians from Rhenock are yet to reach the hospital. The decision on the female patient is yet to be taken, which may follow only tomorrow, informed the STNM Hospital driver.

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