COVID-19: Deaths, funerals and tangihanga

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

Last updated: 12 August 2020

As of midday Wednesday August 12 the Auckland region (Auckland Council area) is at Alert Level 3 for 3 days until midnight on Friday 14 August. The rest of New Zealand is at Alert Level 2. Find out more from the Unite Against COVID-19 website.

More information about deaths, funerals and tangihanga at Alert Levels 2 and 3 will be available soon.

We wish to firstly acknowledge bereaved families and whānau from all cultures and religious backgrounds who have undoubtedly found this time challenging. It has been through your efforts in showing understanding through the expression of kindness and caring, manaakitanga and aroha to each other and those around you, in playing a pivotal role in enabling us all to move to Alert Level 1.

On this page, you will find guidelines that are primarily focused on funeral directors and health practitioners who deal with deaths, funerals and tangihanga.

All other guidelines for funerals including tangihanga and other religious or cultural practices are no longer applicable.

These guidelines will be reviewed regularly and will change if we need to re-activate higher alert levels.


On this page:


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 continue to make provision for attendees to practice good personal hygiene.

It is recommended frequently touched surfaces and objects on the premises are sanitised after each viewing, religious/cultural ritual, service or event has taken place. We encourage hygiene practices to be followed such as handwashing and thorough cleaning of frequently touched surfaces and objects before and after a service or tangihanga.

There are no physical distancing requirements at Alert Level 1. You can still play it safe by continuing to keep a distance from people you don't know. Use your judgement. The more space there is between you and others, the harder it is for COVID-19 to spread.

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


Contact tracing register

At Alert Level 1, funeral directors will no longer be required to keep records of people who attend any part of the funeral process.

While it is not a legal requirement, we are asking everybody to voluntarily keep their own record of where they have been, when they were there and who they met.

The Ministry of Health has created a tracing app — NZ COVID Tracer. This app works by scanning a poster with the Ministry of Health generated QR code. The app then keeps track of where people have scanned so they know where they have been.

Funeral directors are encouraged to get the Ministry of Health’s QR code and display it at the entranceway to their premises so attendees can use the contact tracing app to record their movements.


Attending funerals or tangihanga for people in managed isolation or quarantine

It is unlikely you will gain approval to attend a funeral or tangihanga if you are staying in a managed isolation facility, as the public health risk is higher when multiple people get together. Consider delaying the funeral until after you have completed the 14 day isolation period.

There are no exemptions from quarantine for people with COVID-19 symptoms. More information on exemptions


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.


Cremation Regulations – viewing the deceased

The Minister of Health has authorised medical referees to permit cremations to be carried out for the duration of the Epidemic Preparedness (COVID-19) Notice 2020, 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 where the medical history and current conditions of the deceased are known by the medical or nurse practitione

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.

It is the Ministry of Health's expectation that certifying practitioners will view the deceased's body outside of the residential facility (for example at a funeral home), except where completion of a Cremation Certificate by a certifying practitioner would increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19. 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 1.


Factsheets

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

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

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