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 (green, orange and red):

  • 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. The settings for tangihanga and funerals are the same for both indoor and outdoor services.

Contact tracing at all settings

Record keeping for contact tracing purposes must take place at tangihanga and funerals at all levels. This applies to everyone over the age of 12 in attendance. Organisers must legally display an NZ Covid Tracer QR code. They can also provide another method such as a manual sign in register.

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, similar to what was encouraged during Alert Levels. 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.

Restrictions on tangihanga, funerals and rituals

The COVID-19 Protection Framework is more flexible than the previous alert level system. This is because we know there is lower risk in situations where there are only vaccinated people.

At each setting of the framework there will be different restrictions depending on if the My Vaccine Pass is used. These restrictions include:

  • how many people can attend a service
  • how food and drink can be served
  • use of face coverings by staff at ‘orange’ and ‘red’.

If a facility offers vaccinated and unvaccinated tangihanga or funerals

It is up to the staff and the whānau or family to agree if the tangihanga or funeral is vaccinated or unvaccinated.

Different restrictions apply depending on whether the funeral or tangihanga is vaccinated or unvaccinated. A funeral facility can switch between operating vaccinated and unvaccinated services if:

  • those groups do not mix at any point
  • appropriate public health controls are implemented between groups.

Children who are too young to be vaccinated can attend vaccinated tangihanga or funerals. They will count towards any limits on the number of attendees. People who are medically exempt from vaccination will be issued with a My Vaccine Pass. You do not need to take medical exemptions into account.

If a funeral director is employed to facilitate on a marae

They should consult with iwi or marae representatives to determine if a vaccinated or unvaccinated tangihanga or funeral should occur.

If a funeral director is not employed to facilitate on a marae

The whānau should reach an agreement with iwi or marae representatives to determine if a vaccinated or unvaccinated tangihanga or funeral should occur.

Vaccinated tangihanga or funerals

Responsibility for checking My Vaccine Pass

The responsibility for checking and verifying My Vaccine Pass’ should be agreed before the tangihanga or funeral. If a tangihanga or funeral is not held at a private residence, this responsibility can be shared between:

  • the owner of the business or facility (for example, the personal responsible for the funeral home or cemetery chapel)
  • the people organising the funeral (usually the family of the deceased).

Where the bereaved whānau are considered the organiser we strongly encourage the owner of the business or facility to check and verify My Vaccine Pass so the burden is not on the whānau.

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. The restrictions, including the number of people permitted to attend, will change depending on whether a vaccination requirement applies and the setting the relevant region is in.

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 directors 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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