COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka will begin giving permission for Muslims who die of COVID-19 to be buried, the prime minister said Wednesday, following an outcry over a previous ban.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa gave the assurance in response to a question from a lawmaker in Parliament.
Sri Lanka has required the cremation of all people who die from COVID-19, saying the virus in human remains could contaminate underground water.
Muslims and non-Muslims have protested the rule over the past year, calling it unscientific and insensitive of Muslim religious beliefs. The United Nations and the United States have also raised concerns with the government.
The World Health Organization and Sri Lankan doctors’ groups have said COVID-19 victims can either be buried or cremated.
Muslim lawmaker Rishard Bathiudeen said he is happy with Rajapaksa’s assurance, but that the government should implement it by withdrawing the compulsory cremation rule.
“Many people have been cremated before and their families are living in great agony. I am happy that they showed some compassion even at this stage, but it has to be implemented soon because people are dying every day,” he said.
Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country where it is customary for Buddhists and Hindus, the second largest religious group, to cremate the dead.
Muslims make up about 7% of the country’s 22 million people.
Sri Lanka has reported 71,211 coronavirus cases, including 370 deaths.