Meghalaya’s First COVID-19 Victim Finally Laid To Rest

The owner of Shillong's Bethany Hospital had no travel history and it is suspected that he contracted the disease from a "silent carrier


After 30 hours, the 69-year-old doctor from Meghalaya who died after contracting the deadly novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infection was laid to rest at the Riatsamthiah Presbyterian Cemetery at Lawmali in East Khasi Hills on April 16th, 2020.

The doctor was the first patient of coronavirus detected in Meghalaya. The owner of Shillong’s Bethany Hospital had no travel history and it is suspected that he contracted the disease from a “silent carrier”. He was tested positive for the virus on April 13th, 2020.

The veteran doctor passed away in the wee hours of April 15th, 2020. However, his burial ceremony was a challenge after the local people and the tribal chieftains refused to allow the cremation.

“Kindness is the need of the hour and our gratitude goes to the Riatsamthiah Presbyterian Church for their gesture,” Chief Minister Conrad Sangma wrote on Twitter.

The residents of Jhalupara, Mawbah and Shillong cantonment area and several other places had refused to dispose of the body. The locals said the workers at the crematorium were not skilled and did not have personal protective gears to prevent the virus from spreading in the locality.

The original plan was to cremate the body at an electric crematorium at Jhalupara and then place the ashes in a coffin for burial at his farmhouse in Nongpoh. However, the local traditional tribal body at Nongpoh decided not to allow the burial of the doctor.

Following the intervention of various authorities, state government and elderly people, the burial finally took place at the Riatsamthiah Presbyterian Cemetery.

The last rites were performed by the state health authorities as per standard WHO protocols.

It may be mentioned that six members of the deceased’s family, including his wife, tested positive for the disease.

The premises of the Bethany Hospital – Shillong and Nongpoh in Ri Bhoi district – have been sealed and sanitised. The occupants of the two hospitals have been quarantined inside the medical establishments.

The Meghalaya health authorities have traced around 2,000 people who had visited the Shillong premises of the hospital since March 22nd, 2020.

The deceased doctor’s son-in-law Capt Wungthingthing S Arthur claimed that his father-in-law may have contracted the virus from one of the patients at the Bethany Hospital and urged the state government to “search and isolate” the patient.

“One of the patients that Dr Sailo treated in the line of duty may be responsible for the transmission. The search and isolation of this person is where the state’s energy and resources should be directed at,” Arthur said.

Arthur, a pilot with Air India, was brutally trolled on social media platforms with his image after reports of him being the carrier of the virus in the state became the talk of the town.

The deceased doctor’s son-in-law had been to COVID-19 infected countries and had reached Shillong on March 24th, 2020. As per the health officials, the pilot, however, did not show any symptoms of the highly contagious virus and was an asymptomatic case.

After returning from his official trip to the US on March 14th, 2020, Arthur reached Imphal on March 16th, 2020. On March 20th, he was called in by Air India to operate a flight to Rome to evacuate stranded citizens in Italy but it was operated by his colleague.

“I stayed back in Delhi for any other emergent assignment that may have been required of me, considering the situation. On the announcement of the lockdown, I returned to Shillong on March 24, after providing my thorough travel history to the authorities at the airport in Guwahati and receiving a quarantine stamp. And, on reaching Shillong, I immediately reported to 108, and thereafter remained under home quarantine, observing all respected sterilisation and isolation protocols for 14 days and emerged on April 7,” Arthur said.

Photo credit: @SangmaConrad