COVID-19: Funeral directors, religious and faith-based leaders

Guidance for funeral workers operating under the COVID-19 Protection Framework.

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What you can do at all settings

At all settings of the COVID-19 Protection Framework:

  • tangihanga, funerals, religious and cultural rituals are allowed, including bathing, dressing and praying over the tūpāpaku or deceased person
  • viewing for the purpose of coronial identification is allowed.

The gathering restrictions in the COVID-19 Protection Framework apply to tangihanga and funerals.

Funerals and tangihanga at Red – Unite against COVID-19

Health and safety plans

Funeral homes and other venues where tangihanga and funeral services are held should provide and follow a health and safety plan. This plan should be:

  • updated to incorporate the guidelines for each setting
  • shared with family and whānau so they are aware of any restrictions and requirements regarding the service
  • displayed so it can be easily viewed by all.

Funeral directors are asked to actively promote the use of online Death Documents to health care workers. This avoids practitioners, mortuary staff and funeral directors having to have face-to-face interactions.

Handling tūpāpaku or deceased persons

At all settings funeral directors, cultural or faith-based leaders, whānau and friends can handle and provide some services for tūpāpaku or deceased persons. Provided this is allowed under other legislation, such as the Burials and Cremations Act 1964, this can include:

  • washing
  • dressing
  • shrouding
  • otherwise preparing a body for burial or cremation.

If a religious or cultural ritual is carried out in the presence of an embalmer, they will advise on the correct PPE requirements.

Viewing tūpāpaku or deceased persons

Tūpāpaku or deceased persons may be transported from the funeral home for viewing purposes at

  • private residences
  • churches
  • mosques
  • halls
  • marae
  • other venue.

The funeral director, religious or faith-based leader is only responsible for ensuring the COVID-19 Protection Framework is followed:

  • up until they deliver the tūpāpaku or deceased persons to the place of viewing
  • from the time they collect the tūpāpaku or deceased persons to return to the funeral home or service venue.

The gathering restrictions in the COVID-19 Protection Framework apply to any viewings held at a private residence. The person responsible for the viewing will be responsible for ensuring the restrictions are followed. 

Storing tūpāpaku or deceased persons

The Burial and Cremation Act 1964 requires tūpāpaku or deceased person to be buried or cremated within a reasonable time. Where a setting does not accommodate a larger gathering size, funeral directors will need to work with family and whānau to agree on:

  • what a reasonable time is
  • the latest date for burial or cremation to take place.

Sequential services

Where sequential services are held:

  • make sure people do not mix with people from the next service 
  • a suitable period for ventilation should be allowed for between services, including opening doors and windows
  • frequently touched surfaces and areas where speeches and eulogies happen must be cleaned, including door handles, microphones and lecterns
  • staff at funeral homes or places of worship are encouraged to follow public health measures, such as hand washing, mask wearing and physical distancing.

Protecting yourself and others from COVID-19 – Unite against COVID-19

Risk of COVID-19 transmission

The risk of transmission to funeral workers who handle the tūpāpaku or deceased person of someone who has COVID-19 at the time of death is different from that of the family. The risk depends on what processes are required, such as:

  • autopsy
  • embalming
  • handling the body
  • preparing the body for viewing.

There is clear guidance for funeral homes on how to handle, prepare and store tūpāpaku or deceased person until the funeral. For instance, workers must follow standard precautions and wear appropriate PPE when handling tūpāpaku as outlined in the COVID-19 Orders.

Infection prevention and control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19: interim guidance - World Health Organisation

If the whānau or family wants a viewing

If the whānau or family wants to have a viewing, make sure they have the tūpāpaku embalmed to ensure sanitation of the tūpāpaku has taken place for safe handling. This includes dressing, touching, and taking the deceased home or out of the funeral director's care.

If refrigeration or embalming sanitation has not taken place then follow safe practices including:

  • not touching or kissing the tūpāpaku or deceased persons
  • maintaining at least one metre distance from one another and staff
  • thoroughly washing their hands after the viewing
  • ensuring the tūpāpaku or deceased persons remains in the premises of, and under the care of, a registered funeral director.

You can also identify alternatives to kissing and touching the body in settings where such contact is traditionally part of funeral procedures.

Funerals, tangihanga and last rites – Unite against COVID-19 website

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