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Covid-19 places huge pressure on funeral parlours

The funeral industry is currently under immense pressure due to the number of Covid-19-related deaths with further pressure also amounting from people wanting a valid and dignified send-off for their loved ones.

Many funeral parlours in the Worcester and Robertson area are under pressure with funerals and the amount of Covid-19 deaths taking its toll in the area.

The Cape Winelands District Municipality (CWDM) has taken note of the community’s concerns with regard to the management of their deceased loved ones prior to burial. Its Municipal Health Services (MHS) says it wants to assure residents that all parties are doing their best to ensure that all regulations are being adhered to.

“Firstly, I extend my sincere condolences to all citizens who have lost friends and family members during this pandemic,” says the Executive Mayor of the CWDM, Elna von Schlicht. “The CWDM’s Municipal Health Services routinely inspects all funeral undertakers in the district to ensure they have implemented and are following the necessary precautions that have been declared to prevent further spreading of Covid-19.

“I am aware of the personal sacrifice to our environmental health practitioners (EHPs) continue to undertake while executing their duties, they are truly on the coalface of this pandemic and I salute them.”

The following questions are often asked by citizens.

Who may collect the deceased from the hospital?

Only an authorised person in possession of a valid death certificate issued by the Department of Home Affairs in the name of the deceased is allowed to collect the body from the mortuary of the hospital or forensic pathology services. In most cases this will be the funeral undertaker appointed by and acting on behalf of the family.

What is the difference between a mortuary and the funeral services?

A mortuary is where the body of the deceased is temporarily stored under suitable conditions until the death certificate can be issued and the funeral home can collect the body for storage and prepare it for burial or cremation. Only hospitals and the forensic pathology services have mortuaries. The undertaker or funeral home appointed by the family of the deceased, collects the body and prepares it according to the family’s instructions.

Are those who pass away due to Covid-19 treated differently from those who passed away from other causes?

To prevent anyone from contracting Covid-19 from the deceased, it is required that he or she is placed into two body bags. The outside of the bag is then sanitised/decontaminated before being placed into storage or moved to the funeral home.

The bags may only be opened for viewing purposes at a hospital mortuary or funeral undertakers’ premises, in the presence of mortuary attendants or funeral undertakers’ personnel.

The family-members viewing the deceased must be provided with the necessary protective items, such as gloves and masks and are not permitted to touch the deceased.

Although cremation is not mandatory, it is highly recommended. No open coffins are allowed in the case of Covid-19 bodies outside of a mortuary or funeral undertakers’ premises.

How soon after collection should the person be buried?

There are currently no prescribed time frames, however it is preferred that burial or cremation take place as soon as possible; citizens should note that there may be instances where the authorities may intervene to ensure that safety precautions are upheld.

The CWDM assures citizens that there are plans in place to ensure safe, dignified storage of deceased loved ones. The MHS are of the opinion that given the total capacity of available storage in both the public and private sector which amounts to space for over 500 bodies, they do not foresee that it would be necessary to invoke any mass fatality plans.

Funerals are subject to various regulations too. Attendance of a funeral is limited to a maximum of 50 people, with persons observing a distance of at least one and a half metres from each other.

If the venue is too small to hold 50 people observing a distance of at least one and a half metres from each other, then not more than 50% of the capacity of the venue may be used. Night vigils are not allowed. Services should be kept as short as possible and may not exceed two hours.

After-funeral gatherings. including “after- tears” gatherings, are not allowed.

The following also needs to be observed.

1. Contact details of attendees should be noted.

2. Mourners should be screened for symptoms and temperature.

3. Hand sanitisation facilities should also be available.

Together with citizens the CWDM mourns the loss of loved ones and recognises that at this time people are required to forego many of their practices that help alleviate grief.

These regulations are in place to keep everyone safe and prevent further loss of life. Stand together and beat the pandemic.

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