Opposition Mayaro PM Rushton Paray has called on the Government to help pay for the funerals of covid19 victims.
In a media release on Saturday, Paray said: "The $7,500 funeral grant offered by the national insurance scheme has not been increased in eight years despite higher burial and cremation costs, especially during the current covid19 crisis."
Paray’s concerns about the high costs of indoor cremations arose in light of the increasing amount of covid19 deaths, as well as the Government’s decision to ban open-pyre funerals as a precaution to prevent the spread of the virus.
He charged that several constituents have lost more than one relative to the virus and have been unable to afford the steep funeral charges.
Paray said for Hindus, the Government’s "illogical banning" of open-pyre cremations has led to an almost five-fold increase in funeral costs.
"The situation is dire, and government should immediately provide a funeral grant through the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, to deserving applicants," Paray said.
"Those seeking to access the grant should be subjected to rigorous criteria to ensure there are no irregularities."
Only a few days ago, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) wrote to funeral homes asking for disclosure on the cost of indoor cremations.
In Friday's Newsday, acting general secretary Vijay Maharaj said the Maha Sabha had learned that the cost for indoor cremations normally ranged between $10,000-$15,000 but have increased for covid19 bodies from $27,000-$50,000.
Paray said the Mayaro community has been an economic backbone to the country through the lucrative hydrocarbon sector for more than a generation.
"Despite their vast contributions to the nation’s welfare, residents continue to endure rural neglect. Now they are pleading for the Government to provide social welfare assistance so they could afford funeral costs and avoid the agony of having to beg for community support."
The management of covid19 deaths includes the storage of bodies. The Association of Funeral Professionals has been looking for a mass storage facility to hold bodies and a statement will be made on this matter next week, its president Keith Belgrove told Newsday this week. Belgrove stressed that funeral homes were not overwhelmed and had the capacity to cremate bodies but those with covid19 were building up because their relatives were in quarantine and could not claim them or arrange a funeral.
On Saturday, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh said regional health authorities (RHAs) cannot hold on to bodies indefinitely, which is why the Ministry of Health and the funeral homes have planned for the mass storage site, even though morgues are not at critical capacity.
At the virtual covid19 update, Deyalsingh said, “Resources and capacities are finite so we can’t hold on to bodies indefinitely as much as we’d like to. So that is why we have to treat all of this with a degree of dignity and have the funeral homes store bodies.”
He, therefore, urged families to claim the bodies of their loved ones as soon as possible and take them to a funeral home. He added that, even before the pandemic, some RHAs had arrangements with funeral homes to outsource storage.
During a previous briefing, Deyalsingh said, "The position at our morgues at this time is not critical, in this case. But we are always engaging in contingency planning with the private sector via Mr Belgrove."
Belgrove has said his organisation was searching for a new site after protests by residents and Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh moved the organisation to stop plans to have the site at Beaucarro Road, Freeport.