Senegalese President Macky Sall has agreed to allow the bodies of citizens who died of Covid-19 abroad back into the West African state, soothing distraught families who had fought the ban.
The government banned the repatriations in April to stem the spread of the coronavirus, leaving scores in limbo in countries including France, Italy and the United States.
The issue was emotionally fraught in Senegal, where family bonds are tight and many see holding a religious burial in one’s birthplace as a matter of dignity.
A group of families with dead relatives abroad sought to overturn the ban, but lost a Supreme Court case earlier this month, when judges ruled that the government had followed medical precautions.
But in a televised address on Monday night, Sall evoked the grief of the affected families and lifted the ban, while also loosening other anti-virus measures.
Nicolas Mendy, the son of a Senegalese man who died of Covid-19 in Paris last month aged 71, said he had been “waiting just for this”.
Must obey health measures
Mendy had been paying 55 euros a day to the Paris morgue holding his father’s body while the Senegalese authorities were refusing requests to repatriate it.
“The most important thing is that my father is buried according to his wishes,” Mendy said.
Mbaye Diagne, one of the lawyers for the families in the Supreme Court case, said the president’s decision was a “relief for the whole diaspora”.
Families must nonetheless obey health measures upon receiving the bodies of their loved ones, such as not opening coffins, Diagne said.
Senegalese authorities have recorded 1 995 coronavirus cases to date, including 19 fatalities.
As with other poor countries in the region, there are fears that the former French colony is ill-equipped to handle a major outbreak.