Malaysian undertakers struggle with COVID surge

THIS EDIT CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT

From the sky, the true extent of Malaysia's latest COVID surge is seen at its worst.

Row upon row of burial plots at this Muslim cemetery for coronavirus victims on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur serves as a stark reminder the Southeast Asian nation is experiencing its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

Muhammad Rafieudin Zainal Rasid is a religious leader, also known as the "cleric undertaker".

His team of more than 2,000 volunteers make up the Malaysian Funeral Management Squad.

"Before this, it was between one to three cases per month, but now we are managing up to two to three cases a day, so this requires a large workforce. This is one of the components we handle so that every funeral runs smoothly."

Dressed in head to toe PPE, the volunteers go from the hospital to the morgue to prepare the bodies for burial and also perform Muslim prayers at the cemetery.

But as the number of deaths continue to surge, it can be difficult to bury the body within 24 hours as is typical under Islam.

''With the number of deaths in Malaysia, God willing, the number of graves would still be enough. The only problem we are facing with the excessive increase in deaths is that we cannot collect and process the dead bodies quickly enough, so burials will have to be postponed for several days. For example, if there are more than 10 cases today at the same cemetery, it might take two to three days to wrap everything up."

While Malaysia's overall caseload is far lower than some of its neighbors, public data shows its ratio of infections to population, at more than 16,000 per million, is the highest in Southeast Asia.

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