The last rites of the first doctor to die of COVID-19 in Tamil Nadu, prominent Chennai neurosurgeon and managing director of a hospital Dr Simon Hercules, were disrupted by mobs on Sunday night.
News that a coronavirus victim’s body was coming for last rites brought residents to two burial grounds in Chennai, with sticks and stones. As they attacked the ambulance drivers and family, the doctors’ colleagues had to ready the pit by scooping mud out with hands.
Dr Hercules, 55, who headed New Hope Hospital, was later laid to rest with police help.
On Monday, the Chennai police arrested 20 people for the attacks. The AIADMK government said it was forming a team to handle the last rites of COVID-19 patients. “The team will hereafter monitor arrangements for this in the state,” Health Minister C Vijayabaskar said.
Dr Hercules is believed to have contracted the virus from a patient, and was admitted to Apollo Hospital in Vanagaram, assigned for COVID-19 treatment, in the first week of April. He died on Sunday evening and his body was handed over around 9 pm.
When the doctor’s family and colleagues reached the burial ground at TB Chatram in Kilpauk late at night, a group of people were waiting to stop them. The ambulance carrying Dr Hercules’s body was diverted to the Velangadu burial ground, but faced another mob there.
As a vehicle arranged by the Chennai city corporation started digging a pit at Velangadu, the mob hit the workers with wooden logs and pelted stones, injuring the ambulance drivers, recounted a doctor. “The family was also attacked. The corporation officials fled,” the doctor said.
An hour later, with police protection, the body was buried.
A week ago, a similar incident had occurred in Chennai when people in two localities, Ambattur and Tiruverkadu, had protested against the cremation of a 56-year-old doctor from Andhra Pradesh.
A senior corporation official said similar incidents are likely to recur as there is no system in place to ensure police protection for burials. “On Sunday evening, too, police were informed. Initially, they refused to join the burial team as they have no safety gear except masks,” he said.
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