Vhahangwele Nemakonde
Digital Journalist
3 minute read
28 Jan 2021
8:22 am

Covering of coffins with plastics is unnecessary, says health department

Vhahangwele Nemakonde

According to the department, revised guidelines from the World Health Organization indicate that transmission of SARS 2 from human remains to people who are alive has not been proven.

A mortuary attendant prepares a coffin in accordance with Covid-19 regulations at the Mamelodi Avbob branch, 7 January 2020, Pretoria. Picture: Jacques Nelles

The Department of Health (DoH) has clarified safety protocol relating to the covering of coffins and burials of people who have died from Covid-19 complications.

This after South Africans took to social media during late minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu’s funeral to question why his coffin was not wrapped in plastic as is done at many burials.

Mthembu died on Thursday last week from Covid-19 complications and was buried on Sunday in his home in eMalahleni, Mpumalanga.

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While people questioned Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane’s maskless entry to the cemetery, others wondered if Mthembu’s family opted to wrap his remains in plastic as his coffin was clearly not wrapped.

But the department of health says people have been doing it wrong.

“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, it the water table is too high for normal burial,” said spokesperson Popo Maja.

According to the department, revised guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that transmission of SARS 2 from human remains to people who are alive has not been proven.

As a result, the department is in the process of reviewing the requirement of a body bag for burial to align with 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.”

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However, the department says handling human remains affected with Covid-19 still poses a risk to the members of the public who are doing it, 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 in a controlled environment within a mortuary or funeral undertakers’ premises.

“These measures are still necessary to control the spread of Covid-19 among mourners,” added Maja.

On exhumation, the department says it should only be done when authorised 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.

“Illegal exhumation of human remains is prohibited and is punishable by law. We appeal to all citizens 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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