Postmortems on people who die from coronavirus will not be necessary in most cases unless there are other underlying causes, the coroners’ service has confirmed.
In a statement about its role in the handling of deaths from coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, the Coroners Society of Ireland said confirmed and suspected or possible coronavirus-related deaths must be reported to the local district coroner.
It outlined a number of likely scenarios, and confirmed that in most cases a postmortem would not be required “unless other circumstances are present and the law mandates an autopsy to be directed by the coroner”.
On Monday, the Irish Association of Funeral Directors said all funeral services for coronavirus victims should be postponed, and the deceased brought straight to the crematorium or cemetery for committal.
It also recommended that relatives of the deceased should not be permitted to attend funeral directors’ offices or funeral homes, and that transport for the bereaved such as limousines should not be provided.
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said these measures recommended by the funeral directors association were "not necessary".
President of the Coroners Society of Ireland, Dr Mary Flanagan, said the coroner's statement on Wednesday was issued "in relation to the requirement for postmortem".
Separately, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference has said it will do its best to ensure a Christian burial for those who request it.
In a statement about religious ceremonies and Covid-19, the bishops said it was clear that “people with underlying conditions, and who are vulnerable, should not attend funerals. For the same reason, when sympathising, people should not shake hands.”
Under the guidance issued by the bishops, priests will no longer anoint the foreheads of people who are dying with their thumb. Instead holy oil will be administered with a cotton bud or glove, which will then be disposed of appropriately.
Similarly, priests will not touch a baby on the forehead when they are being baptised.
There will also be a ban on the sign of peace and on the passing around of collection baskets in church in a bid to combat the spread of coronavirus.
The bishops also warned that many confirmation ceremonies may have to be postponed pending future advice from the public health authorities.
Mass-goers have been asked to keep a safe distance from one another. Masses will continue as normal. However, those with underlying conditions are “dispensed from their Sunday obligation to attend”. Instead they are encouraged to avail of parish radio broadcasts and webcams.
Earlier in its statement the coroners’ service said that where a patient had been diagnosed with Covid-19, the death must be reported to the local coroner but in most cases a postmortem would not be necessary “unless other circumstances are present”.
Postmortems are required for all unexplained deaths.
The coroners’ statement outlined possible scenarios including where a patient dies in hospital while viral swab results are awaited and where a patient dies in hospital from respiratory failure or adult respiratory distress syndrome before investigation for coronavirus takes place.
Swab tests should be taken and if the result is negative a postmortem can be undertaken if the coroner so directs.
Where there is a death in the community with “circumstantial suspicion for Covid-19 infection” but no investigation has taken place before death, the remains should be transferred to the district coroner for viral swab testing.
It also stated that in such cases when the viral screening or postmortem was finished “the body will be released to the person entitled to possession under law [usually the family or next-of-kin] and funeral arrangements and interment or other arrangements are then a matter for the family and their funeral directors”.