Even after death, COVID-19 victims endure harrowing isolation in Thessaloniki, the city in Greece most acutely affected by the pandemic.
Efcharis Gunseer, 84, could not see her daughter during any part of a losing battle with the virus — not at the nursing home where she first became ill or at the hospital where she spent several weeks.
The staff of the overwhelmed intensive care ward also was too busy to set up telephone calls, the daughter said.
When Gunseer died in late August last year, her body was wrapped in two plastic bags and placed in a shrink-wrapped casket. Under rules set by city authorities, she was not buried next to her late husband, but in a section of a cemetery reserved for people infected with the virus. Her grave remains off-limits to visitors.
“I think to die alone that way is the worst thing that can happen,” her daughter Mikaela Triandafyllidou, 45, told reporters.
“I only saw my mother for a moment, from a distance at the morgue for identification... People are dying with no one there for them, like dogs,” she said.
More than 300 people have been buried so far in the segregated plots, according to Thessaloniki officials.
Greece suffered an alarming setback in late October last year, when the country’s eight-month run of low infections abruptly ended and hospital wards were pushed to capacity.
Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, and neighboring areas in the north of the country bore the brunt of the surge. For weeks, the city reported a higher daily number of new cases than Athens, despite having a population about one-quarter the size.
In Greece, where most cemeteries are overcrowded, remains are typically removed after three years of burial and taken to an ossuary, but coronavirus victims are to remain buried for 10 years.
Yet Symeon Metallidis, an assistant professor of internal medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Thessaloniki, said the cemetery precautions are mostly unnecessary.
“I find it absurd to do this. It makes no sense,” Metallidis said.
“There is no evidence of transmission of the virus after death, nor is there any reason for them to be buried for 10 years,” he said.
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