New Delhi: The Union health ministry has asked all states and Union Territories to hand over bodies of suspected COVID-19 cases to their relatives without waiting for laboratory confirmation of the infection but said the mortal remains should be disposed of as per government guidelines.

A letter on the matter was sent to all states and UTs on Wednesday (July 1) in the wake of issues raised regarding the death of suspected COVID-19 patients and bodies not being handed over to relatives pending confirmation of test report by hospitals.

"I would like to clarify that the dead bodies of such suspected COVID cases should be handed over to their relatives immediately and laboratory confirmation of COVID-19 should not be awaited," the letter written by Director General of Health Services (DGHS), health ministry, Dr Rajiv Garg said.

These bodies can as a matter of abundant precaution be disposed of as per the 'Guidelines on Dead Body Management' available on the website of Union health ministry which directs that handlers in PPE accompany the body for final rites, the letter stated.

"If such death cases test positive eventually, then the requisite action for contact listing, tracking etc. should be carried out subsequently. Further, necessary action may be taken as per the clarification given above," the letter said.

India's COVID-19 tally zoomed past six lakh on Thursday (July 2), with a single-day increase of 19,148 cases while the death toll rose to 17,834 with 434 persons succumbing to the disease in the last 24 hours, according to health ministry data updated at 8 am.