As the COVID-19 death toll in the UK continues to rise, health and environmental concerns surrounding funerals have become increasingly alarming. Measures have been implemented to minimise the risk of transmission while ensuring the deceased is treated with dignity and respect.
Storage of bodies
Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, local authorities can now ask organisations for help in the storage and transportation of bodies. Additional cemeterial space will be set aside and crematoria are encouraged to increase their operating hours to accommodate more bodies. These rules are implemented to ensure bodies are treated with utmost care and respect.
In normal circumstances, deaths are registered by a family member in person. But amidst the growing pressures brought by the pandemic, the Coronavirus Act has given funeral directors the power to register deaths and submit documentation electronically.
The rule that a second doctor must certify the cause of death for COVID-19 victims as well as provide a confirmatory certificate have also been relaxed to hasten the process.
Managing and attending funerals
As of June 15, churches are permitted to host funerals again.
Funerals should have no more than 30 people in attendance and guests must wear masks and protective face shields. The church is expected to undertake a risk assessment and follow all necessary precautions to decrease the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Attendance numbers must also be within the capacity limits of the venue to maintain social distancing (at least 2 metres or 3 steps) among guests.
Mourners experiencing COVID-19 symptoms such as high temperature, continuous cough, and loss of taste or smell are not advised to attend the ceremony. Remote participation such as live streaming or recording should be considered.
Families may also consider postponing the memorial service, until social restrictions are lifted and gatherings can take place safely.
The rise of eco-friendly burials
With the growing number of pandemic burials, environmental solutions are required to reduce the harmful effects of new cemeteries on soil, groundwater, and public health. From eco-friendly crematorium design plans to thorough risk assessments, every step of the development project must be given utmost care and attention.
The environmental threats brought by non-pandemic burials are typically evaluated based on their yearly average burial rate. While most sites are suitable for 10 burials per year, certain areas can face greater risk of pollution amid higher burial rates. Therefore, it is imperative that Local Authorities measure the suitability of a proposed site before classifying it as a pandemic site.
According to the Environment Agency’s policies on groundwater pollution, burial plots should be located no more than 50m away from springs, wells, or boreholes and at least 10m away from field drains and drainage systems that can serve as preferential pathways.
The presence of standing water at the bottom of the burial pit suggests that the area of the site is unsuitable for burial. No sand and gravel should be found at the bottom of the burial pit while at least 1m of subsoil must be placed below the lowest coffin’s base.
In a time of fear and uncertainty, local authorities are called to create effective deceased management plans. Such plans would not just mitigate health and environmental risks, but more importantly, allow families and communities to grieve and find purpose in their continued living.