2021 Photo Contest, General News, 2nd Prize

The Human Cost of COVID-19


Joshua Irwandi

18 April, 2020

The body of a suspected coronavirus victim, wrapped in yellow infectious-waste plastic, lies awaiting a body bag, in a hospital in Indonesia.

Nurses wound plastic around the body and sprayed it with disinfectant, in accordance with Indonesian government protocols. These protocols required COVID-19 victims to be wrapped in plastic and buried quickly to prevent the virus spreading. This meant grieving relatives were unable to follow funeral practices, which for Muslims includes personally washing the dead. The World Health Organization advised against the use of disinfectant and recommended wrapping bodies in cloth. The potential risk of transmission related to the handling of bodies of COVID-19 victims is considered low, provided that it is carried out by trained medical staff wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Around the world, COVID-19 matters were aggravated by misinformation and inadequate reporting. For many, the lack of access to factual evidence and accurate science-based messages about the disease led to confusion, anxiety, and denial. When this image was published it sparked denial and strong reaction across social media. Many who saw it declared it to be a set-up intended to spread fear. By the end of the year, Indonesia had reported around 743,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 22,000 deaths.

About the photographer

Joshua Irwandi

Joshua Irwandi (1991) is a freelance documentary photographer based in Jakarta, Indonesia. He received a B.A. in English literature from the University of Exeter, and pursued ...

Technical information

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Nikon D4

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