The last wish of a 77-year-old terminal cancer patient – to be buried near his late wife – could not be respected because he was listed as COVID-positive at the time of his death even though he had just tested negative, according to his daughter and son.

The man, diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in August, was buried in a rushed funeral this week in an area at the Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery reserved for people who die while COVID-positive.

Relatives were advised that, because of COVID, the grave could not be opened for a decade if they buried him near his wife and they were afraid to take that risk.

“One of his last communications with us, about two weeks ago, was to be buried near our mother,” said his daughter.

“It saddens us that this could not happen when he was actually COVID-negative when he died. Now they will be separated,” she said.

The family said they understood the need for safety measures to control the spread of the virus. However, in this case, their father, who had previously tested positive, had tested negative the day before his death.

On Tuesday, the health authorities announced that two men, aged 61 and 77 “died while COVID-19 positive” in the previous 24 hours.

But the relatives of the 77-year-old man are contesting this.

Agressive cancer

They are also upset that the cause of death was listed as COVID when he already had an aggressive form of cancer which had spread across his body.

Times of Malta asked the health authorities on Monday for information about the condition of people who are listed as having died “while COVID positive”.

A breakdown has been requested of how many of the COVID-related deaths so far have been the result of the virus or of another illness, whether the condition of those who died was aggravated by the virus and whether the people dying while infected with COVID-19 were vaccinated or not.

The lack of transparency has compelled the son and daughter to speak out, albeit under anonymity, saying that the COVID death figures are causing “unnecessary fear”.

“We lived it and know the reality of how a death that is not caused by COVID is listed as such,” the man’s son said.

The siblings said their father had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of metastatic melanoma in August and it had since spread throughout his body.

About a month ago, he suffered thrombosis and was placed on medication. This resulted in bleeding and he was taken to Mater Dei Hospital.

On January 19, he was tested for COVID-19 and the result was positive. So, he was moved to the privately run Good Samaritan Hospital, in St Paul’s Bay, which is used to care for elderly virus patients who live in care homes.

Rushed funeral

After a few days, as his health deteriorated rapidly, the man’s children asked for a COVID test. This was carried out last Sunday and, on Monday morning, the result was out: negative.

A few hours later they were told his condition had worsened and he died early that same afternoon.

Despite the negative test, his doctor said that he had been instructed to list the cause of death as COVID infection, followed by COVID pneumonia and then metastatic melanoma.

The result was a rushed funeral the following morning.

“The excuse they gave us was that he was still in quarantine (from the January 19 test). But in quarantine for what? He tested negative,” the daughter said.

“We had no time to inform friends… we understand that his death was irreversible and there was nothing else we could do about it. But it saddens us that he could not be buried near our mother, as he wished,” his children said.

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