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File: Shore of the Peace cremation site, South Oropouche.

RHONDOR DOWLAT-ROSTANT and AKASH SAMAROO

Given the strict protocols handed down to funeral homes on the disposal of the bodies of COVID-19 victims, the State was initially the only authority allowed to carry out those disposals.

However, that policy was changed eight months ago to allow funeral homes to conduct funerals.

Now, one funeral home director is calling on the relevant authorities to consider reopening cremation sites to allow for proper traditional and cultural practices.

Carlyle Mulchan, director of Dass Funeral Services’ Marabella branch, says families of victims are being deprived of their religious traditions and culture because they are forced to use crematoriums for disposal of their loved ones.

But Mulchan explained that crematoriums are now overwhelmed.

“There is no difference with crematorium and cremation sites and if the sites are opened back, it will solve or have a little more leverage in easing the system of body disposal,” Mulchan said.

He added, “A lot of people prefer open cremation sites via the traditional method of packing of wood, piles. We are seeing that it was maybe not a properly thought out process and that it was overlooked.”

“The opening up of cremation sites will help now and in the future because the crematoriums are overwhelmed and maybe it’s more dangerous to keep the human remains that long until we get space to cremate rather than being able to do a disposal of today for today, or today for tomorrow on the traditional cremation sites.”

Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the National Insurance Board of Trinidad and Tobago (NIBTT), Niala Persad-Poliah, said they have not been seeing increases in applications for the Funeral Grant Benefit since the recent rise in COVID-19-related deaths.

“On average, the NIBTT settles approximately 12,000 Funeral Grant applications annually. Thus far, there has been no significant increase in applications to date,” Persad-Poliah said.

She added that the Funeral Grant Benefit is still available once the deceased insured person made a minimum of 25 contributions to the NIS.

“The benefit is processed the same day as a walk-in facility and no appointment is necessary for processing this claim. Someone applying for the Funeral Grant will be required to complete the NI8 Application Form, attach a copy of the death certificate of the insured person and a copy of the receipts for funeral expenses. The value of the receipt can be as nominal as $1.00,” she said.

Asked if any change was made to the process due to COVID-19, she replied: “The Funeral Grant is usually processed within two hours of receiving the application and the customer will be able to leave with the cheque of $7,500. At this point, this is not a contactless facility, as it requires engagement with the Customer Service Representative at the Service Centre.”

Asked if there were any plans for a contactless application process due to the recent spike in cases, Persad-Poliah responded, “The NIBTT is urgently exploring the possibility of a contactless option for the processing of the Funeral Grant Benefit and any adjustments to the process, will be issued in a subsequent communication.”