COVID-19: Deaths, funerals and tangihanga

Information and guidelines for funeral directors and health practitioners on deaths, funerals and tangihanga.

Last updated: 3 June 2020

Bereaved families and whānau from all cultures and backgrounds will find this time challenging. It is even more important we show each other kindness and caring, manaakitanga and aroha.

As we have seen in New Zealand and overseas, gatherings present a very high risk for transmission of COVID-19. We must protect people’s health and ensure our health system can look after New Zealanders who become sick.

These guidelines for deaths, funerals and tangihanga will be reviewed regularly and may change as we move through alert levels.


On this page:


What happens at Alert Level 2

  • Gatherings of up to 100 people (indoors or outdoors) for funerals and tangihanga are permitted. During the funeral or tangihanga infection control measures need to be in place to protect people from COVID-19.
     
  • For all funerals and tangihanga, record keeping is required to assist contact tracing should it be needed. An example of a contact tracing form is also available for download for funeral directors when carrying out a service.

    Contact tracing form (PDF, 105 KB)
     
  • The length of indoor gatherings should be minimised – under 2 hours is recommended.
  • If a viewing of the deceased person or tūpāpaku is being held in a private dwelling, marae, church, community hall, mosque or the like, there can be multiple viewings for groups of up to 100 people at any one time, provided each group is in a separate ‘defined space’ and doesn’t intermingle with other groups.
  • This limit of up to 100 people excludes workers such as kaikōrero, kaikaranga, members of the clergy and the funeral director.
  • Each group of up to 100 people, will be considered as ‘one cohort’.
  • A defined space is an indoor or outdoor space with walls or partitions (whether permanent or temporary) that substantially divide that space from other spaces, or an outdoor space where there is more than two metres between all members or separate groups.

Registered funeral directors should handle deceased persons

A registered funeral director should be engaged to carry out the functions of care and preparation of the deceased and may assist with transportation, burial or cremation and service arrangements of a deceased person. Funeral directors are encouraged to return to normal practice where possible, as long as the public health guidelines are followed.

Funeral directors are encouraged to provide opportunities for family, whānau and friends to go to the funeral home to view the body or undertake religious/cultural rituals.

The deceased may be transported from the funeral home for viewing purposes at a private residence, church, mosque, hall, marae or other venue.

Funeral homes and any other venue where funeral and tangihanga services are held must have a health and safety plan. This plan should be updated to incorporate the guidelines for each alert level. It should be shared with family and whānau who engage the services of a funeral director so they are aware of any restrictions and/or requirements in relation to the service. The health and safety plan should be displayed so it can be easily viewed by all.


Infection prevention and physical distancing

Personal hygiene and infection prevention are important in stopping the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

Funeral directors and any other owners of venues where funeral and tangihanga services are held, should make provision for personal hygiene, such as having hand sanitiser available. People should use this when entering the funeral home premises and/or any other premises the funeral director is using in the provision of their services.

Frequently touched surfaces and objects on the premises should be sanitised after each viewing, religious/cultural ritual, service or event has taken place. All hygiene practices should be followed such as handwashing and thorough cleaning of frequently touched surfaces and objects before and after a service or tangihanga.

Physical distancing requirements don’t apply for up to 100 people within a ‘defined space’ at any one time. However, record keeping to assist with contact tracing should be in place.

People who are sick with cold or flu-like symptoms should not attend funerals or tangihanga, a viewing, religious/cultural ritual, service or burial.

When making funeral arrangements with family and whānau, funeral directors should:

  • Continue to make arrangements via telephone, video conferencing or other forms of electronic communication, where possible
  • Where arrangements need to be made face to face, these should ideally take place in the funeral home
  • Where face-to-face meetings take place, personal hygiene should be followed.

If family or whānau wish to hold a viewing, religious/cultural ritual or service for the deceased at another venue such as a marae, church, community hall, mosque or the like, responsibility for maintaining health guidelines lies with the owners or operators of those facilities.


Contact tracing register

Contact tracing is an important element of our response to COVID-19. Funeral directors or the organiser of the ceremony must keep a contact tracing register with the details of all persons attending any part of the funeral process. This register must include:

  • exact day and time the event took place
  • full names of all attending the event
  • one method of contact (eg, email address or mobile phone number).

Funeral directors or venue owners must keep contact tracing records secure for two months and once they are two months old they should be destroyed. The information in the register must only be used for the purpose of contact tracing and only shared with the Ministry of Health or district health boards, should this be required. Attendees should not have access to anyone else’s personal information.


Travelling to attend a funeral or tangihanga

Travelling inter-regionally to attend a funeral or tangihanga of a close friend or family member is permitted. You do not have to apply for an exemption to travel.


Transporting deceased by air, COVID-19

This information is from the International Civil Aviation Organization and is for funeral directors and those wishing to transport a deceased loved one to or from New Zealand.


Cremations and exemptions from viewing a body

On 1 April 2020, the Minister of Health authorised medical referees to permit cremations to be carried out during COVID-19 Alert Level Four, without complying with regulation 7 of the Cremation Regulations 1973, when people have died in a rest home, residential care facility, or other long-term in-patient facility.

On 25 April 2020, the Minister of Health authorised medical referees to permit cremations to be carried out without complying with regulation 7 of the Cremation Regulations 1973, for the duration of the Epidemic Preparedness (COVID-19) Notice 2020.

Before a body can be cremated, the Cremation Regulations 1973 require the permission of a medical referee. Under regulation 7 of the Regulations, a medical referee cannot permit any cremation unless a Cremation Certificate is issued by a certifying practitioner which requires the medical or nurse practitioner to see and identify the body. This creates risks for both practitioners and facility operators to protect residents and themselves from potential infection with COVID-19.

The Minister of Health has authorised medical referees under regulation 12(b) of the Cremation Regulations 1973 to permit cremations to be carried out without complying with regulation 7 for cremations where completion of a Cremation Certificate by a certifying practitioner would increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19. This authorisation applies in rest homes, residential care facilities, and other long-term in-patient facilities where the medical history and current conditions of the deceased are known by the medical or nurse practitioner, but not to hospitals or hospices.

Certifying practitioners should make reasonable efforts to view the deceased’s body outside of the residential facility (for example at a funeral home). Where this is not possible, the funeral director must confirm whether there is a biomechanical aid present in the body (for example by completing the certificate developed by the New Zealand Embalmers' Association Incorporated).

Under this authorisation a medical referee must receive advice from a trusted source, who has a reasonable level of assurance of the cause of death to verify the identity of the deceased and that the deceased died of natural causes, in lieu of a certifying practitioner providing a Cremation Certificate.  Certifying practitioners must provide the details of the trusted source who confirmed the identity of the deceased in writing to the medical referee. Medical referees will have discretion in determining who constitutes a trusted source but are not required to validate the credentials of a trusted source. Medical referees must check that that the identity, contact details, and position of the trusted source have been recorded. Funeral directors may collect details of the trusted source, who identifies the deceased to the funeral director, using the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand standard form.


Guidance for certifying deaths due to COVID-19

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has developed guidelines for health practitioners to use when certifying causes of death for people who died of, or with COVID-19. These guidelines are based on World Health Organization recommendations so are applicable to all countries. The guidelines can be found at Guidance for Certifying Deaths due to COVID-19.

For information about certifying documents online see Completing Death Documents.

Viewing for the purpose of coronial identification is still permitted during Alert Level 2.


Factsheets

COVID-19 Alert Level 2 – Kua hīkina te rāhui, engari ka herea tonutia: Information for families and whānau

Management of deaths due to COVID-19: Information for funeral directors

Deaths, funerals and tangihanga: Information for funeral directors

Transporting deceased by air, COVID-19 information for funeral directors

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