Hasty cremations take toll on victims' kin
THE quick dispatch of the dead with Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) to be cremated and the barring of family members from being with the patients during their final moments have added to the kin's grief, reported the South Korean media.
"The Korean culture stipulating a three-day funeral service actually helps bereaved families express and release their sorrow and be comforted by others," psychiatrist Hwang Jae Uk of Soonchunhyang University Hospital in Asan city told The Korea Herald.
"But as the families of the Mers victims are asked (by the government) to complete the cremation in 24 hours, they are likely to be under much more stress," added Dr Hwang.
The newspaper witnessed how a funeral worker sealed a Mers-infected body in a leakproof bag after wrapping it with a plastic bag, skipping all cleaning and preservation treatments.
In a few hours, the corpse would be turned into ashes at a crematorium.
Throughout the process, the bereaved families could only watch from a distance. No funeral ceremonies are allowed by the government.
"It's so sad that the families cannot say goodbye to the dead. Bereaved families cannot even check the faces of their beloved before the cremation because of virus concerns," funeral worker Lee Sang Jae told The Korea Herald.
"The dead can be cremated only in the late afternoon, after the other uninfected bodies are done first. Until then, the bereaved families can do nothing but wait," Mr Lee added.
Only a limited number of family members are allowed to go to the designated cremation facilities.
Family members who are infected or in quarantine are barred from appearing.
Often, Mers victims cannot be with their family members during their final moments - due to health considerations - leading to a sense of guilt for the kin, experts said.
As part of efforts to relieve the mental stress on bereaved families, the government has pledged to provide psychological support.
The Mers response headquarters said five public hospitals and a few municipal health centres will offer counselling.
Meanwhile, Thai health officials yesterday said a 75-year-old man from the Middle East was confirmed to have Mers, the country's first case following South Korea's outbreak. He arrived in Thailand with his family three days ago.
South Korea reported three more Mers-related deaths yesterday, bringing the number of deaths to 23.
The number of infections now stands at 165, making the Mers outbreak the largest outside Saudi Arabia.
South Korea's Hotel Shilla operator also temporarily shut its hotel on Jeju Island after learning that a former guest was diagnosed with Mers, a spokesman said yesterday.
The guest had stayed from June 5 to 8 at the hotel, and was diagnosed some time after checking out, the spokesman was cited by Reuters as saying.
Earlier yesterday, World Health Organisation chief Margaret Chan expressed guarded optimism over South Korea's ability to contain the Mers outbreak, saying it was now "on a very good footing" after an initially slow response to the virus.
There have been signs that the outbreak may be slowing in South Korea. The daily number of new cases dropped to single digits this week, compared to as many as 23 last week.