Alert Level 3 guidance for funeral directors, and cultural and faith-based leaders

Alert Level 3 guidelines for funeral directors and health practitioners on deaths, funerals and tangihanga.

Last updated: 22 September 2021

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What happens at Alert Level 3

Funerals and tangihanga are allowed, but only for up to 10 people.

The 10-person limit for funerals and tangihanga excludes kaikaranga, kaikōrero, members of the clergy or staff who are attending. Up to five staff are allowed at funerals and tangihanga, meaning 15 people in total can be present.

Formal tangihanga involving large gatherings cannot take place at Alert Level 3. Families and communities must not carry out funerals themselves.

If you are attending a funeral or tangihanga, we recommend you:

  • keep two metres away from people you do not live with
  • avoid physical contact, including harirū, hongi, kissing and hugging
  • wear a face covering.

Organisers legally must record attendees to make sure contact tracing can happen if needed. No food or drink can be served at a funeral or tangihanga.

Funeral directors can continue working at Alert Level 3.

At Alert Level 3 you can visit a cemetery in your region if you can do so safely while keeping two metres away from people not in your bubble.

There is no specification as to where funerals or tangihanga can occur. The restrictions above apply to wherever the gathering takes place.

Why this is important

We must protect people’s health and ensure our health system can look after New Zealanders who become sick.

Bereaved families and whānau from all cultures and backgrounds will find this time challenging. This makes it even more important to show each other kindness, care, manaakitanga and aroha.

Travel to funerals and tangihanga

If you are in an Alert Level 3 area, you can travel within that Alert Level 3 area to attend a funeral or tangihanga. You do not need to apply for an exemption.

Only permitted travel across Alert Level boundaries is allowed. Most people are not permitted to travel. You will need to apply for an exemption to attend a funeral or tangihanga in another Alert Level area. Exemptions are granted only in exceptional circumstances on a case-by-case basis, and only where this is consistent with the public health response to COVID-19. It is very difficult to get an exemption.

Procedures for funeral services and viewing of bodies

Only registered funeral directors may handle deceased persons

A registered funeral director must be engaged to carry out the functions of burial or cremation and transporting a deceased person in New Zealand.

Funeral services

During Alert Level 3 a small private gathering for funerals and tangihanga of up to 10 people can occur. This excludes kaikaranga, kaikōrero, members of the clergy or staff who are attending. Up to five staff are allowed at funerals and tangihanga, meaning 15 people in total can be present.

Families or communities must not carry out funerals. Funeral services open to the public are not permitted.

Funeral directors are encouraged to carry out burials and cremations as quickly as possible. Where this is not possible, you may want to offer your families and whānau other options, including:

  • holding the funeral or tangihanga after the Alert Level 3 restrictions ease — bear in mind that we don’t know when that might be and there could be practical or cultural reasons why this is not an option
  • live streaming or providing photos of the service and/or burial
  • cremating the deceased and burying the ashes at a later date and holding a memorial service when restrictions on gatherings are lifted and it is safe to do so.

Viewing of bodies

Family and whānau (up to 10) who were in the same bubble as the deceased are allowed to view their loved one at a funeral home. Other groups can also view the deceased by appointment, but only in groups of up to 10, and they must live in the same bubble.

  • Individuals should only undertake one viewing (ie, people should not be coming and going as part of their bubble or with other bubbles)
  • Furthermore, the number of people who will be able to view the body may need to be negotiated with the funeral director depending on the size of the funeral home (taking into consideration physical distancing and hygiene requirements)

Viewing of bodies should only take place in a funeral home managed by a funeral director registered with their local authority.

  • No food or drink other than water is to be supplied or consumed at funeral homes for viewings, funerals or tangihanga. Any water provided by the funeral home should be in disposable cups which are discarded immediately after a single use.
  • Funeral home staff must work within the physical distancing protocols as outlined by the Ministry of Health including having hand sanitiser readily available at the entrance to be used by everyone prior to entering the funeral home.
  • The funeral director must ascertain the size of any one ‘bubble’ participating in a viewing and may have to split the ‘bubble’ to accommodate physical distancing, depending on the size of their funeral home facilities.
  • A funeral director or member of the funeral home staff must be present in the funeral home at all times and meet physical distancing rules while any viewing is in progress.
  • The funeral director’s premises must be sanitised after each viewing has taken place.
  • The funeral director must space out viewing appointments to allow time for sanitising.
  • The deceased may not be transported from the funeral home for viewing purposes at any time.

Attending the burial

Up to 10 people are allowed to go to the cemetery or urupā to bury their loved one. This excludes up to five staff (for example, kaikaranga, kaikōrero, members of the clergy or staff who are attending) This means that up to 15 people in total can be present at the burial.

Contact tracing

Businesses or services, such as funeral directors, are required to have systems and processes in place to support contact tracing. This can be done through displaying an official NZ COVID Tracer QR code and/or by keeping a register. If they choose to have a register, it should include:

  • exact day and time the viewing took place
  • full names of all viewing
  • current physical address of the viewers’ isolation bubble.
  • email addresses
  • mobile phone numbers.

Religious rituals and coronial identification 

Funeral directors may also allow religious rituals for the care of the body to occur. However, these must be carried out in the presence of an embalmer who will give direction to anyone present on the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements.

For example, Muslims have two fundamental requirements for funeral and burial, ghusl (ritual washing) and janaza (prayer over the body), that must be carried out by Muslims and within their strict rules for handling of the body. In this example, funeral directors may wish to work with their Muslim communities to identify Muslim males and females who can prepare the body of the deceased for correct funeral and burial, under the supervision of the embalming staff.

If families break these rules the funeral director should contact the local Police for support.

Viewing for the purpose of coronial identification is still permitted during Alert Level 3.

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