The Department of Health says health directions on the management of human remains that died of COVID-19 do not prescribe the covering of coffins with plastics, use of biohazard stickers, and wearing full PPE by funeral directors or sanitising of the graves or clothes of people attending the funeral.

In a statement, it says this is unnecessary 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.”

On Tuesday, the department met with parties in the management of human remains to address concerns relating to how the bodies of those who died of COVID-19 are handled.

The parties included the Federations and Associations of Funeral Undertakers and Parlours, Provincial Managers of Environmental Health, Provincial Coordinators of Forensic Pathology Services and Municipal Health Services Managers.

The department says it has noted that the revised guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) transmission of SARS 2 from human remains 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.”

Dr. Vuyokazi Nelly Sharpley discusses how COVID-19 has affected burial practices: 

In addition to the current COVID-19 health directions, the department has issued regulations governing the establishments of funeral undertakers’ premises and mortuary, conveyance of human remains, burial, cremation, exhumation, reburials, and general provisions.

“The human remains (affected with COVID-19) 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,” health authorities say.

The health department has also urged the public to follow the proper channels to exhume remains of a loved one.

According to law, exhumation must be authorised by the relevant government and permitted by the relevant municipality, or 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.