Jeddah: Following a speeding white van in the busy Madinah highway is not an easy task for most motorists. The frantic chase, with multiple turns, ends in a silent lane at North Jeddah Cemetery in Dhaban, nearly 68 km from Jeddah.
The vast spacious cemetery equipped with all modern facilities is designated as a final resting place for Covid-19 victims in Jeddah, commercial capital of the oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The vans operated by the Jeddah Municipality ferry mortal remains of Covid-19 victims, after completing required legal formalities, from hospitals across the city on a regular basis. The van drivers change their PPE after each trip.
Dealing with victims’ bodies is a challenge, as the presence of the contagious disease means that burial or cremation must take place immediately. After formal washing known as Ghusl in Islamic tradition, bodies are shifted inside the gate number 2 in the same van. Salat al-Janazah prayers are held before grave-diggers, mostly Bangladeshis, take the bodies to bury them.
Salat al-Janazah can only be performed in a cemetery and not in mosque. According to the rules, people must maintain a 1.5-metre distance among themselves while praying.
Standing in the middle row of the grave line, grief-stricken Mohammed Ejaz Hussain, a native of Karimnagar, noting down grave number 17/10 belonging to his brother Imtiaz Hussain, who died of Covid-19. He wanted to save the location of the burial, for 12-year-old Zaki Hussain, son of the deceased, may come to Saudi Arabia to visit his father’s grave in future.
Some children of deceased NRIs or pilgrims, who are buried here, turn up lately, after becoming adults, to Saudi Arabia to visit graves of their parents.
Compared with others, Imtiaz Hussain was lucky to have his brothers, who are working in Saudi, make it to the burial.
When Mohammed Anwar, a native of Hyderabad’s Fateh Darwaza, died of Covid-19 and buried in the same graveyard, there was hardly anyone from his relatives at the graveyard to bid adieu. Like him, dozens of bodies are being buried silently, often in the presence of colleagues or employer representatives.
The pandemic and physical distancing measures have brought about significant restrictions to funeral services. From treatment in isolation to funerals in remote areas and also grieving alone, this is how bereavement has changed in the Covid-19 pandemic.
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