All funeral services for coronavirus victims should be postponed and the deceased brought straight to the crematorium or cemetery for committal, according to recommendations from the Irish Association of Funeral Directors issued on Monday.
It also advised that transport for families of the deceased, “eg limousines and saloons”, should not be provided and that funeral instructions should be given to undertakers by bereaved families “over the phone only”.
Relatives of the deceased “should not be permitted to attend the funeral director’s offices or funeral homes”, it added.
The deceased “should always be removed from the place of death in a body bag which is not reopened” and “removal vehicles should be hygienically cleaned after the removal of remains and all gloves and other disposable equipment should be disposed of safely”.
Where possible “the deceased should be removed to a designated area within the funeral directors’ facilities (or those of an outsourced provider) – eg an isolated cold room” and “the deceased should not be embalmed” but should instead “be placed in the selected coffin and the coffin closed”.
Public gatherings “such as a church services, gatherings at funeral homes, residences, crematorium chapels etc should not take place,” it said.
A spokesman said the association had tried on a number of occasions to seek guidance from the HSE and the Department of Health on coronavirus “mortality procedures”.
He claimed this was not forthcoming, so it was decided to issue protocols to members to be followed in the event of arranging a funeral for someone who has died from coronavirus, also known as Covid-19. HSE guidelines for workers dealing with the general public and a public health advice fact sheet were also issued.
“These protocols are to ensure that infection does not spread from the deceased or from their close family and friends who may be infected from contact with the deceased or each other,” it said.
The association is an all-island group with a membership of 342 undertakers and, according to its website, conducts “80 per cent of funerals on the island of Ireland”.
It said: “We have been advised by the Dublin city coroner that Covid-19 can last for several days after death.”
It recommended that “where the cause of death is unknown or the possibility of death from Covid-19 has not been ruled out, funeral directors and their staff removing the deceased person should use all protective personal equipment ie gloves, face masks, gowns, aprons, covering suits and boots and should remove the deceased in a body bag.”
Indeed, where there is any uncertainty as to cause of death it recommended: “treat as a death by Covid-19”.
No postmortem required
According to the association, the Dublin city coroner “confirmed that there will be no postmortem examination required, provided the deceased had been previously diagnosed as having contracted the disease”. It advised that “funeral directors should check with their local coroners to confirm if the same policy applies in their areas”.
Clearance should be ascertained “in the normal way – through the GP or attending hospital doctor. In the event of a suspected Covid-19 death, where the deceased was not diagnosed, then this is notifiable to the Dublin city coroner and funeral directors should check with their local coroners to confirm if the same policy applies in their areas,” it said.
As there have been no deaths in Ireland due to coronavirus to date, such funeral restrictions have not yet been applied.
Meanwhile, the association advised that staff who feel they may have coronavirus “should contact their GP by phone and self-isolate at home, following the guidelines as prescribed” by health authorities in the Republic and Northern Ireland.
Where funerals involving people who had died of other causes were concerned, it advised that there should be “no shaking of hands or hugging, sneezing and coughing etiquette should be adhered to”. Hand sanitisers should be provided at funeral homes and relevant venues, as well as tissues and a safe method for their disposal.