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

What you can do at each Alert Level, contact tracing, handling, storing and viewing tūpāpaku (deceased persons).

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What you can do during Alert Levels

At all alert levels, funerals, tangihanga and religious and cultural rituals are permitted. 

Viewing for the purpose of coronial identification is also permitted at all Alert Levels. 

At all Alert Levels, organisers must legally display an NZ Covid Tracer QR code and have infection control measures in place.

There are restrictions on how many people can attend services at different alert levels, and rules around food and drink.

You can find this information and advice for families and whanau on the Unite Against COVID-19 website. 

Contact tracing attendees

Alert Level 1

Funeral directors and venue owners are not required to keep records of people who attend any part of the funeral process. However, you should encourage people to scan the NZ COVID Tracer QR code or record their details. If you do keep contact tracing records, they should be kept secure for two months. Once they are two months old, they should be destroyed. The information must only be used for the purpose of contact tracing and shared with the Ministry of Health or district health boards, if required.

Alert Levels 2 and 3

Funeral directors, cultural and faith-based leaders, and venue owners where preparations or rituals take place, must have systems and processes in place to enable contact tracing. It is mandatory to display an official NZ COVID Tracer QR code.

A contact tracing register must also be kept to record the details of people entering the premises for the purposes of viewings, religious and cultural rituals. This register should include:

  • exact day and time the viewing, funeral or ritual took place
  • full names of all attending
  • a method of contact (for example, email address, mobile phone number, current physical address).

If funeral directors or venue owners keep contact tracing records, they should be kept secure for two months. 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
  • be shared with the Ministry of Health or district health boards, if required. 

Health and safety plans

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

  • updated to incorporate the guidelines for each Alert Level
  • 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.

Handling tūpāpaku (deceased persons)

At Alert Levels 1 and 2, funeral directors, cultural or faith-based leaders, whānau and friends can handle and provide some services for tūpāpaku. Provided this is allowed under other legislations, such as the Burials and Cremations Act 1964, this can include washing, dressing, shrouding, or otherwise preparing a body for burial or cremation.

At Alert Level 3 religious and cultural rituals must be carried out in the presence of an embalmer. They will give direction to anyone present on the correct PPE requirements. 

Viewing tūpāpaku (deceased persons)

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

Storing tūpāpaku (deceased persons)

The Burial and Cremation Act 1964 requires tūpāpaku to be buried or cremated within a reasonable time. Where an Alert Level is not lowered funeral directors will need to work with family and whānau to:

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

Unless there are practical or cultural reasons not to do so, funeral directors may also wish to store tūpāpaku until Alert Level restrictions are lifted. Where storage is an option, funeral directors may want to offer families and whānau other options, such as:

  • holding the funeral or tangihanga, or a memorial service, after restrictions lift and it is safe to do so
  • live streaming or providing photos of the service and burial
  • cremation and storing ashes to be buried later.

Cremation regulations

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 practitioners.

Before a body can be cremated

The Cremation Regulations 1973 require the permission of a medical referee before a body can be cremated. 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.

Exemption from Regulation 7 in some circumstances

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. It does not apply 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).

Receiving advice from a trusted source

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.

Factsheets

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

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

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.

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