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Multi-day traditional Thai funerals shortened for Covid-19 safety

Neill Fronde



FILE PHOTO: Traditional Thai Buddhist funerals need to be shortened for Covid-19 safety.

Traditional funerals in Thailand last several days with ceremonies and mourning before the eventual cremation of the lost loved one. But with the rising death toll of Covid-19, funeral ceremonies have needed to be revised and shortened for the safety of attendees. With infections in Thailand catapulting from 29,000 in early April to 74,900 as of yesterday, funerals have to adapt to account for not only handling the remains of someone who died from Covid-19 but also infected mourners attending the funerals.

Traditional Buddhist funerals involve family members, friends, and often the local community joining together to offer condolences, pray, share meals, and view the body, placing flowers on the dead loved one before they are moved into an incinerator for cremation. Family members often sleep in the temple where the ceremony takes place, staying on-site for several days. But in the Covid-19 era, services need to be shortened and socially distanced, with family members that do come close to the dead body requiring disinfection and possibly isolation afterwards. Volunteers in full PPE protection gear often remove the casket from an ambulance moving it straight to the crematorium rather than allowing it to lie in repose first.

Siam-Nonthaburi Foundation is a volunteer group that is assisting people to conduct safe funeral services for those who may be unable to afford them. They work with the Nontha Buri temple of Wat Rat Prakong Tham just outside of central Bangkok to arrange free cremation services. Foundation officials pointed out they’re often handling 4 funerals per day because of Covid-19 when they usually only conduct 1 each day. They have to take severe Covid-19 precautions as it is a high-risk endeavour.

After assisting with many funerals and helping with Covid-19 safety, they advised maximum caution especially with older family members as the majority of the funerals they conduct were for the elderly.

Thailand has now had 315 death from Covid-19, with the third wave spreading faster and deadlier due to the B.117 variant that first appeared in evening entertainment venues in Bangkok and other hot spots. Yesterday the first recorded infection with the Brazilian variant was identified in Thailand, but in an arriving passenger who went into immediate quarantine, so there is hope that the strain has not made it into any communities yet.

With a difficult-to-control Covid-19 pandemic and Thai funeral traditions bringing people in close proximity to each other and to the deceased, precautions and revision of tradition has been necessary to speed services into the cremation process far more quickly.

SOURCE: France 24


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Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10 years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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