This interim guidance is based on what is currently known about COVID-19. The infection is spread through contact with contaminated droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or from contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects.

Funeral directors and mortuary personnel are less likely to contract COVID-19 from deceased persons infected with the virus if they adopt appropriate infection control procedures and wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The greatest risk is likely to come from contact with family members.

The following precautionary strategies should be used to minimise public health risks and to prevent spread of disease:

    ​​
  • Maintain droplet and contact infection control procedures when handling or transporting bodies confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 
  • Wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at all times
  • Two leak-proof body bags (double bagged) labelled “COVID-19 – Handle with care” should be used to store and transport the body
  • Avoid unnecessary manipulation of the body that may expel air or fluid from the lungs
  • Embalming of a body confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 is not recommended
  • Family viewing of the deceased may occur; however family members should avoid any contact with the body
  • Maintain the recommended social distance from families and friends of the deceased​
Last updated: 02 April 2020

​​What is the COVID-19​ virus?

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. It was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, where it has caused a large and ongoing outbreak. Cases have since been identified in several other countries, including Australia.

COVID-19 is spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or by indirect contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects. People are at risk of infection if they come in close contact (face to face for at least 15 minutes or in a closed space for at least 2 hours) with someone who has COVID-19.

Risk to funeral di​rectors and mortuary personnel

There is no evidence of an increased risk of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 to funeral industry workers who handle the bodies of those suspected of having, or confirmed to have, died from COVID-19. The greatest risk is likely to come from failure to employ infection prevention and control measures and contact with family members.

Funeral industry personnel should however employ infection prevention and control measures when handling bodies. Further information is available in the NSW Infection Prevention and Control Policy (PD2017_013).

The greatest risk of transmission to funeral industry workers is likely to be through contact with family and friends of the deceased. For more information on stopping the spread, visit Launch of the coronavirus (COVID-19) campaign​.

Preparing to ma​nage bodies with COVID-19

Before accepting deceased persons with COVID-19, funeral directors should review their own infection control policies and procedures and ensure staff are familiar with these practices. This may include providing training in hand hygiene and how to put on and remove Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Precautions while handling the body include:

  • Avoid unnecessary manipulation of the body that may expel air from the lungs
  • Wear appropriate PPE while handling the body at all times
  • Practice hand hygiene practices before and after contact with the body
  • Perform regular environmental decontamination including all surfaces and equipment with a disinfectant included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods as a listed disinfectant with a specific virucidal claim (“kills viruses”).

Personal Protective Equipment (​PPE)

Standard infection control and occupational health and safety guidelines should always be followed while handling and preparing a body. All staff should be trained in the correct use of PPE.

Persons in close contact with the body must wear:

  • a clean protective outer garment, such as a gown
  • disposable gloves
  • a disposable surgical mask
  • appropriate eye protection such as safety glasses or a face shield.

After use, PPE should be carefully removed and decontaminated or disposed of into general waste as soon as practicable.

Aerosol generating procedures

The potential for airborne spread of COVID-19 is still unknown. Aerosol generating procedures should be avoided if possible. Airborne precautions should be employed when performing aerosol generating procedures, such as post mortem use of fast-spinning power tools.

Airborne precautions include:

  • Fluid resistant long-sleeved gown
  • P2/N95 respirator (mask) – should be fit checked with each use
  • face shield or safety glasses
  • disposable nonsterile gloves when in contact with patient
  • hand hygiene before donning and after removing gloves

For more information, visit http://www.cec.health.nsw.gov.au/keep-patients-safe/infection-prevention-and-control/transmission-based-precautions ​

Bod​y bags

The body of a deceased person confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 should be transported and stored in a two leak-proof body bag (double bagged).

The outer body bag should be clearly and permanently labelled as containing COVID 19, such as: “COVID-19 – Handle with care”.

The funeral director should only remove the body to prepare the body for viewing, cremation or burial.

Used body bags should be disposed of in clinical waste streams.

Handling o​f bodies

Persons who may handle deceased persons with COVID-19, such as funeral directors and morgue attendants, must comply with the guidelines specified in Part 3 of the Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare (2019) ​ as published by the National Health and Medical Research Council. When placing a body in a bag or wrapping, a person must comply with standard infection control procedures consistent with the NSW Infection Prevention and Control Policy (PD2017_013).

Transportation of b​odies

The owner or driver of the vehicle used to transport the deceased should be informed that the body is confirmed or suspected to be infected with COVID-19.

There is no change to the usual body transport protocols for COVID-19 related deaths.

Embalmi​ng

Embalming is not recommended for bodies who died from, or with, COVID-19 as it is not clear whether embalming is safe to do.

If embalming must be done, the embalmer should be certified and trained in the use of PPE consistent with contact and airborne precautions. This includes a P2/N95 respirator which has been fit-checked, gown, gloves and eye protection.

Viewing th​e body

Family viewing of the deceased should be allowed to take place in a funeral director’s mortuary facility and standard precautions should be observed.

Family members should not kiss or touch the deceased to minimise the risk of transmission.

If a family member does touch the body, they should wash their hands with soap and water immediately afterwards or use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Funeral S​ervices

To minimise transmission of COVID-19, the funeral director must comply with all Public Health Orders relating to gatherings. A funeral service may be attended by a maximum of 10 people (including the person conducting the service) and take place in a space with at least 4 square metres per person. For example, if 10 people are in attendance, the space must have an area of at least 40 square metres (e.g. 5 metres by 8 metres) and should consider the type and size of the gathering.

For up-to-date information on Public Health Orders related to public gatherings, see Public Health Orders

Cremation o​f bodies

Funeral directors must comply with the relevant NSW regulations with regards to disposal of bodies. Infection control precautions should be used during body handling and the cremation of deceased bodies confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19.

Explanting medical devices is not recommended for bodies who died from, or with, COVID-19 as it is not clear whether it is safe to do. Cremation practices should be managed accordingly.

Further information

​​​

​​What is the COVID-19​ virus?

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans. It was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, where it has caused a large and ongoing outbreak. Cases have since been identified in several other countries, including Australia.

COVID-19 is spread through droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or by indirect contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects. People are at risk of infection if they come in close contact (face to face for at least 15 minutes or in a closed space for at least 2 hours) with someone who has COVID-19.

Risk to funeral di​rectors and mortuary personnel

There is no evidence of an increased risk of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 to funeral industry workers who handle the bodies of those suspected of having, or confirmed to have, died from COVID-19. The greatest risk is likely to come from failure to employ infection prevention and control measures and contact with family members.

Funeral industry personnel should however employ infection prevention and control measures when handling bodies. Further information is available in the NSW Infection Prevention and Control Policy (PD2017_013).

The greatest risk of transmission to funeral industry workers is likely to be through contact with family and friends of the deceased. For more information on stopping the spread, visit Launch of the coronavirus (COVID-19) campaign​.

Preparing to ma​nage bodies with COVID-19

Before accepting deceased persons with COVID-19, funeral directors should review their own infection control policies and procedures and ensure staff are familiar with these practices. This may include providing training in hand hygiene and how to put on and remove Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Precautions while handling the body include:

  • Avoid unnecessary manipulation of the body that may expel air from the lungs
  • Wear appropriate PPE while handling the body at all times
  • Practice hand hygiene practices before and after contact with the body
  • Perform regular environmental decontamination including all surfaces and equipment with a disinfectant included in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods as a listed disinfectant with a specific virucidal claim (“kills viruses”).

Personal Protective Equipment (​PPE)

Standard infection control and occupational health and safety guidelines should always be followed while handling and preparing a body. All staff should be trained in the correct use of PPE.

Persons in close contact with the body must wear:

  • a clean protective outer garment, such as a gown
  • disposable gloves
  • a disposable surgical mask
  • appropriate eye protection such as safety glasses or a face shield.

After use, PPE should be carefully removed and decontaminated or disposed of into general waste as soon as practicable.

Aerosol generating procedures

The potential for airborne spread of COVID-19 is still unknown. Aerosol generating procedures should be avoided if possible. Airborne precautions should be employed when performing aerosol generating procedures, such as post mortem use of fast-spinning power tools.

Airborne precautions include:

  • Fluid resistant long-sleeved gown
  • P2/N95 respirator (mask) – should be fit checked with each use
  • face shield or safety glasses
  • disposable nonsterile gloves when in contact with patient
  • hand hygiene before donning and after removing gloves

For more information, visit http://www.cec.health.nsw.gov.au/keep-patients-safe/infection-prevention-and-control/transmission-based-precautions ​

Bod​y bags

The body of a deceased person confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19 should be transported and stored in a two leak-proof body bag (double bagged).

The outer body bag should be clearly and permanently labelled as containing COVID 19, such as: “COVID-19 – Handle with care”.

The funeral director should only remove the body to prepare the body for viewing, cremation or burial.

Used body bags should be disposed of in clinical waste streams.

Handling o​f bodies

Persons who may handle deceased persons with COVID-19, such as funeral directors and morgue attendants, must comply with the guidelines specified in Part 3 of the Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Control of Infection in Healthcare (2019) ​ as published by the National Health and Medical Research Council. When placing a body in a bag or wrapping, a person must comply with standard infection control procedures consistent with the NSW Infection Prevention and Control Policy (PD2017_013).

Transportation of b​odies

The owner or driver of the vehicle used to transport the deceased should be informed that the body is confirmed or suspected to be infected with COVID-19.

There is no change to the usual body transport protocols for COVID-19 related deaths.

Embalmi​ng

Embalming is not recommended for bodies who died from, or with, COVID-19 as it is not clear whether embalming is safe to do.

If embalming must be done, the embalmer should be certified and trained in the use of PPE consistent with contact and airborne precautions. This includes a P2/N95 respirator which has been fit-checked, gown, gloves and eye protection.

Viewing th​e body

Family viewing of the deceased should be allowed to take place in a funeral director’s mortuary facility and standard precautions should be observed.

Family members should not kiss or touch the deceased to minimise the risk of transmission.

If a family member does touch the body, they should wash their hands with soap and water immediately afterwards or use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Funeral S​ervices

To minimise transmission of COVID-19, the funeral director must comply with all Public Health Orders relating to gatherings. A funeral service may be attended by a maximum of 10 people (including the person conducting the service) and take place in a space with at least 4 square metres per person. For example, if 10 people are in attendance, the space must have an area of at least 40 square metres (e.g. 5 metres by 8 metres) and should consider the type and size of the gathering.

For up-to-date information on Public Health Orders related to public gatherings, see Public Health Orders

Cremation o​f bodies

Funeral directors must comply with the relevant NSW regulations with regards to disposal of bodies. Infection control precautions should be used during body handling and the cremation of deceased bodies confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19.

Explanting medical devices is not recommended for bodies who died from, or with, COVID-19 as it is not clear whether it is safe to do. Cremation practices should be managed accordingly.

Further information

​​​​
Page Updated: Thursday 2 April 2020
Contact page owner: Health Protection NSW