GEORGE TOWN: The remains of 16 individuals, all of whom died of Covid-19, have been left unclaimed at the Penang Hospital’s mortuary.
Although Covid-19 deaths are decreasing substantially, some of those who succumbed to the pandemic have no loved ones who are willing to step forward to handle their remains.
For now, it is only the state government that is saddled with the duty of cremating their bodies and holding on to their ashes until relatives come forward, said state welfare committee chairman Phee Boon Poh.
“Some of these victims are believed to be foreigners. We could not find any identification papers on them. We do not know their race or religion.
“We are unable to obtain appropriate clearance from the relevant embassies for the bodies to be buried or cremated.
“Clearance is needed to determine if those who died are Muslims or non-Muslims so that we can give them the proper last rites.
“If the deceased is a Muslim, we will ask the Penang Islamic Religious Affairs Department to handle.
“If we cannot identify the nationality, we must wait for 21 days for the declaration of the unclaimed body, and only then can we apply to handle the body,” he said.
After that, Phee said it could take another week before they find a slot to cremate the unclaimed bodies.
He explained that a police report will be made for each case.
“We will take the victim’s DNA samples and photographs of the victim’s face, body, tattoos or birthmarks.
“We have to safeguard ourselves, too. We have to make sure that we can explain (the circumstances) to the families if they come and claim the body in the future.
“After the cremation process, the ashes will be kept in an urn and NGOs involved will help to keep the urns temporarily in a columbarium.
“The basic cost will be borne by the NGOs.
“If a family comes, we can show them the police report as a reference before telling them where the ashes are.
“The next-of-kin will be required to do a DNA test to make sure that they are family members.
“If the DNA matches, we will hand over the ashes to the family and from there, they can decide on what to do with it,” he said.
The United Hokkien Cemeteries in Batu Gantong, Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple in Berapit and the India Crematorium in Batu Lanchang are the three crematoriums in Penang that cater to Covid-19 deaths in Penang.