WHO finds that transmission of COVID-19 from corpse to the living is not proven

WHO finds that transmission of COVID-19 from corpse to the living is not proven

The South African government has amended some of the rules of COVID-19 funerals following new findings from the World Health Organisation. 

Covid-19 death
Covid-19 death/ iStock

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, South Africans have not been able to conduct funerals as per normal. 

To curb the spread of the virus, the government put in place strict rules pertaining to how funerals can be conducted after research showed that funerals are super-spreaders of the virus. 

READ: Dealing with the death of a loved one due to COVID-19

One of the rules was that coffins of COVID-19 victims had to be wrapped to prevent the spread of the virus. 

However, the government has now released new rules which states that this is unnecessary.  

“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,” states the government website

This law amendment comes after the World Health Organisation revealed that transmission of COVID-19 from corpse to the living is not proven. 

“The revised guidance from World Health Organization indicates that transmission of SARS 2 from a human remain 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,” states the government website. 

The new findings allow for viewings to take place at mortuaries. It also makes provision for the coffin to enter the deceased’s home.  

“The human remains 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,” states the government website.

The allowance of families to view the corpse of their loved ones comes as a relief for many, especially after reports emerged of people burying the wrong bodies. 

It also offers a sense of relief for those who were not able to view the body of their loved ones or having it enter the home for the last time for cultural reasons, preventing people from finding closure. 

Dr Happy Setsiba, a Clinical Psychologist, says people need to understand that although the dynamics of funerals have changed, we have to embrace the change.  

"COVID-19 funerals are unusual. That absence of familiarity makes us feel so empty. It makes us feel like there is a void we can't feel," says Dr Setsiba. 

However, she says it is important to allow the process of healing to take place in the absence of what we were previously used to. 

"Viewing the body, having night vigils, offering support in whatever form, they just help us to get through the process," says the Clinical Psychologist.  

She adds that people need to allow themselves to grieve and know that it will take time. 

"Grief and healing from loss is a process. It is something that will be continuous. You can never say you are done with it."

Lastly, she says people need to embrace the new culture. 

"We just need to understand that some days will not be easy - that is how death affects us." 

READ: Covid-19 deaths continue to soar

Image courtesy of iStock/ @asiandelight

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