Cremation capacity enquiry a Covid-19 controversy in HCMC

By Huu Cong    March 29, 2020 | 06:34 am PT
Cremation capacity enquiry a Covid-19 controversy in HCMC
A facility to treat Covid-19 patients in HCMC. Photo courtesy of the city's Health Department.
An ill-timed request for information on Ho Chi Minh City’s cremation capacity has drawn flak for causing public confusion and undermining the city's Covid-19 fight.

The request was made in a document prepared by the municipal Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

In a decision issued Saturday evening, the city's People's Committee severely criticized the department for the document saying it had confused the public and negatively impacted the city’s efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

The department was instructed to review and propose disciplinary action against individuals responsible for requesting the "cremation capacity report."

The People's Committee stressed that it had no policy or instruction for the environment department to issue such a document. It also asserted that the city was doing well in its fight against Covid-19.

The controversial document was signed Thursday by deputy department director Nguyen Thi Thanh My. It asked a number of companies in the city to report on the city's maximum cremation capacity in case of continuous operation, as well as the reception process and maximum isolation measures to ensure cremation activities would not affect humans and the environment.

While the request was described to be part of the city's response to the Covid-19 pandemic, it also included a line stating "especially for situations that require cremating critically ill Covid-19 patients who might die."

The document was later shared on social networks, causing confusion amidst a complicatedly developing Covid-19 situation. The department retracted the document on Friday.

At a Saturday press conference, department director Nguyen Toan Thang admitted that the document sent to cremation units contained content that was inappropriate and unclear.

"As the head of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, I would like to take responsibility for affecting the people, departments and sectors who are fighting the epidemic together," Thang said.

Tu Luong, deputy director of HCMC's department of information and communications, said the document doing the rounds on social networks triggered confusion, concerns and greatly impacted the city's work.

"The public questioned whether the city was hiding outbreak (information) because they thought we were even having to mobilize forces and have crematoriums operate 24 hours a day. The city would like to assert that there is no hiding of outbreak information. The city will handle this issue strictly and publicize the results soon," Luong said.

Nguyen Tan Binh, director of the city's health department, also dismissed rumors of "HCMC having casualties from Covid-19" to be untrue. "The city has no case of death from Covid-19. The health of all patients is stable, no one needs to use a ventilator," Binh said.

HCMC has been taking strong measures in its fight against Covid-19. It has closed down all bars, karaoke parlors, restaurants, and other entertainment facilities. It also shut down all historical sites and tourist attractions.

Several departments including transport, culture, environment, education and labor have been consulting with the city on additional measures such as limiting public transport, suspending cultural events with large numbers of participants and closing schools.

Nine latest Covid-19 patients confirmed Sunday evening, including one reporter and two related to Hanoi's Bach Mai Hospital, have taken Vietnam's total to 188 infections. Of these, 25 have recovered and been discharged from hospitals.

The Covid-19 pandemic has killed more than 31,700 people in 199 countries and territories.

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