COVID-19 Funerals – What you need to know

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The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) has issued the following advice about funerals in pandemic times. Because the situation moves so fast, updates change frequently, and this advice was accurate as of 27 March 2020.

The new Coronavirus Act is now law and is being enacted. The Act changes how deaths are registered and temporarily suspends Form 5 (or its equivalent) for cremation. The registration of deaths differs in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but you can read the guidance on the NAFD website.

The risk of transmission of Covid-19 is lower after death, but the NAFD says it has not seen the science to understand what this means for funeral directors. They urge funeral directors to follow standard infection control guidance.

Short of supplies of #PPE

Unfortunately, many funeral directors do not have enough supplies of personal protective equipment thanks to the huge increase in demand to be able to follow the standard infection control guidance.

The NAFD is urging the government to issue funeral sector specific advice. Funeral staff are categorised as key workers.

Funerals are not included in the ban on public events and funeral homes are still open. However, the NAFD says it is vital funeral services follow the government’s guidance and do not create unnecessary risk of transmission.

Joint guidance on mourner numbers

Seven organisations that represent the funeral, burial and cremation sector have issued joint guidance on how many mourners should attend a funeral after the government announced limiting attendance to immediate family only.

The Deceased Management Advisory Group (DMAG) says it recognises the important and central role of the funeral in the grieving process. The risk to elderly people, the frail, those in vulnerable groups and funeral directors and crematorium staff needs to be taken into account.

As a result, the DMAG now recommends that funeral services should limit attendees to immediate family members who are not in the high-risk category and/or not self-isolating. Immediate family members are classified as spouse or partner, parents or carers, brothers and sisters, and children and partners.

Limit numbers ‘sensitively’

But limiting the numbers must be done in a sensitive way, the DMAG advises. One example might be if the deceased person had few or no living relatives and a close friend wished to attend. And grandchildren would be permitted to attend the funeral of grandmother or grandfather.

The DMAG has urged the funeral sector to work closely together to support each other in the delivery of meaningful funeral services in extremely challenging times.

Provisions in the Coronavirus Act for funeral firms include:

  • a coroner is only notified if a doctor believes there is no medical practitioner who may sign the death certificate, or that they are not available within a reasonable time of the death
  • powers to enable the provisions under the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 suspending the collection of ashes, except where family wishes are known
  • expanding the list of people who are allowed to register a death to include funeral directors who are acting on behalf of the family
  • enabling the electronic transmission of documents that usually need to be presented physically to certify the registration of a death.

Finally, if the number of people who die from Covid-19 significantly exceeds local capacity to manage funerals and burials/cremations, local authorities will be given the power to take control of any element of the death management process in their area.

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