FUNERALS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: Is the wrapping of coffins unnecessary?

FUNERALS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: Is the wrapping of coffins unnecessary?

Since the Covid-19 pandemic has made its way to South Africa, the burial of loved ones has not been the same. It has become common practice for coffins to be wrapped in plastic. This is perceived to be a precautionary and safety measure in cases where the deceased died of COVID-19 related complications. Many aggrieved families observe such a practice with dismay, shock and often expressed the traumatic experience that funerals have become.

This practice has left many South Africans questioning its rationality and legality. The Department of 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 addition to the directions by the Department of Health, revised guidance from the World Health Organisation provides that transmission of the Corona Virus from human remains to people who are alive has not been proven. Below are the recommendations by the WHO.


The WHO committee has put forward guidelines regarding the handling of corpses:

  • Wrapping of the coffin with plastic or any other material is not required for infection control; Wrapping of the corpse with plastic is not required for infection control, as there is no evidence of transmission of COVID-19 from a corpse; Alternatives, such as a body bag, blanket or shroud may be used to wrap a corpse for burial;
  • The face may be exposed during the funeral proceedings if it is not possible to touch or hug the face. To prevent touching the corpse, a Perspex or similar cover over the exposed face should be used;
  • All those handling the corpse should use appropriate PPE as they may have to handle infectious materials and surfaces.

The WHO Guidance provide that there is no reported case of the transmission of the Corona Virus from a corpse to a human being. There risk of infection being transmitted from a dead body to those carefully handling the corpse is very minimal.

Although there are only two sources of information in relation to the topic at hand, it is rather clear that neither local nor international standards recommend for coffins to be wrapped in plastic. One is then left to wonder the source of authority that provided funeral parlours the permission to engage in such a practice.

These are definitely unprecedented times. However, it is mandatory for one to educate and inform themselves on the legality of conduct engaged on under the guise of precaution from the Corona Virus.

Contributor: Sethabile Nkosi
Designation: Candidate Attorney

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