June 13, 2021

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WRAPPING OF COFFINS WITH PLASTIC

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Wrapping of COVID-19 Coffins

Wrapping of COVID-19 Coffins

The Department of Health has received reports of coffins of people who died of COVID-19 being wrapped with plastic and in some cases, human remains are also wrapped inside and coffins marked with biohazard stickers prior to burial.

A meeting was convened on Tuesday 26th of January 2021with interested and affected parties in management of human remains. These parties included the Federations and Associations of Funeral Undertakers and Parlours, Funeral Undertakers, Funeral Parlours, Provincial Managers of Environmental Health, Provincial Coordinators of Forensic Pathology Services, Municipal Health Services Managers, Environmental Health Practitioners and National Department of Health: Environmental Health Directorate.

The Department of Health has issued health directions on the management of human remains that died of COVID-19 that prescribes measures to be implemented. These directions do not prescribe the covering of coffins with plastics, use of biohazard stickers nor wearing full PPE by funeral directors or sanitising of the graves or clothes of people attending the funeral as this is unnecessary.

This is unless it is prescribed as an additional measure by the relevant municipality where the grave is excavated in an area with a high-water table. Such additional measures are applicable to all burials (not only COVID-19), if the water table is too high for normal burial. The public and the industry must note that the measures prescribed are evidence based and may change as and when new evidence is presented.

The revised guidance from World Health Organization indicates that transmission of SARS 2 from a human remain to people who are alive has not been proven therefore the Department is in a process of reviewing the requirement of a body bag for burial to align to current evidence. Human remains can be buried either in a body bag or be wrapped in a shroud or blanket as the case may be. The body bag can be used for medical reasons or the family may decide to bury using these body bags.

In addition to the current COVID-19 health directions, the department has, as part of regulatory role under the National Health Act, 2003 (Act No61 of 2003), as amended, issued regulations governing the establishments of funeral undertakers’ premises and Mortuary, conveyance of human remains, burial, cremation, exhumation, reburials and general provisions.

COVID-19 is a new disease which is virulent in nature and can easily affect a huge number of people if health protocols are not adhered to. The department has regulated the number of people that can attend funeral gatherings to reduce the possible exposure to the disease. The process of handling human remains affected with COVID-19 poses a risk to the members of the public who are doing it and to their immediate families and the community at large.

The human remains should only be conveyed to the deceased`s home on the day of the burial and viewing is only allowed under control environment within a mortuary or funeral undertakers` premises. These measures are still necessary to control the spread of COVID-19 amongst mourners.
Exhumation is a process of removing human remains from a grave and is regulated under the regulations governing the management of human remains promulgated on 22nd May 2013.The law states exhumation or reburial shall not be done unless:

(a) Authorized by the relevant government and permitted by the relevant municipality; or
(b) A court order is issued by a magistrate of the court and shall be permitted by the relevant local government in whose jurisdiction the exhumation and reburial will take place.

Members of the public wishing to exhume human remains must do so following the provisions of the above-mentioned legislation. Therefore, illegal exhumation of human remains is prohibited and is punishable by law.

National Department of Health appeal to all citizen of South Africa to observe the above requirements so that as a country we can move towards combating the spread of the disease.

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