The "flip-flop" decisions around funeral rules are treating people as sacrificial pawns, a funeral director says.
The Government back-tracked on rules that allowed only 10 people at funeral and tangi, announcing last week that up to 50 people can farewell their loved ones.
When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced last Monday that funerals and tangihanga would be limited to 10, there was an outcry.
The Government came under increasing pressure after this, as restaurants and sports events could have up to 100 people, but funerals and places of worship would remain restricted to 10.
Two days later, Health Minister David Clark made the amended announcement allowing up to 50 people.
Prior to any service that has more than 10 people, the service must be registered with the Ministry of Health.
Funeral Directors Association president Gary Taylor said that the 10-people limit was a "cruel and heartless blow".
The association welcomed the change with Taylor saying 50 was a number they "can work with for now".
But Hope Family Funeral Services director Tony Hope says the "flip-flop" approach to funerals was playing with people's minds.
"Treating people in their most vulnerable time as sacrificial pawns in the chess game of life... the long-term mental health is going to be just massive.
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He said while the new limit of 50 was do-able, the restrictions and requirements which now needed to be met did not add up to the regulations around people meeting in a restaurant or movie theatre.
"The Government is screwing with their emotions and their mental health.
"Families are so distraught with the flip-flop over the last 10 days, it's been catastrophic for grieving families."
He said he understood this was being done to save thousands of lives but Covid-19 had created emotional turmoil with people and Hope feared for the mental health of people who were on a rollercoaster of emotion.
Jones & Company Funeral Services director Paul Gilmore while technology was available for virtual funerals, it was not the same.
"You can't plan a death, so people have to put off their grieving and it's going to potentially affect them down the track."
Rotorua-based Osborne Funeral Home director Richard Fullard said a blanket approach to numbers for gatherings would have been fairer.
"There's absolutely unfairness in it, there's no reason why a funeral should be singled out and treated any different than a whole lot of people coming together for the movies."
He said while 50 was better than 10, it was still a difficult conversation to have with families.
"Dealing with a sudden death is tough enough let alone having to jump through hoops just to be surrounded by your whanau and friends."
He said a death did not happen at appropriate times and were a way to start the grieving process but families were now forced to pick and chose who should attend.
"It's an important life event ... It's coming together in a meaningful way to grieve."
He said the industry now had to prove to the Ministry of Health and Cabinet that "we're capable of behaving ourselves".
"There really should be no limit on the number of people who gather together in a funeral sense."
Rotorua man Kris Wills lost his aunt, Helen Wills, who died on the last day of level 3 and said having a tangihanga under the restrictions of 50 people was "very hard".
Helen was hospitalised before level 4 and went into a strict quarantine at her rest home and no one from the family was able to make face-to-face contact with her for seven weeks as her health deteriorated.
Wills visited his aunt on Tuesday - which was still level 3 - and the family rotated two people at a time in the room to see her, the rest stood outside her balcony singing karakia and songs.
"That was our way of saying goodbye."
His aunt's wishes were to be buried with her mother but as she was not embalmed, the whanau had 24 hours to hold a service before cremating her.
Her ashes now lay beside her mother at the family urupa and will stay there until the family is able to hold a "proper" send-off for her.
He said it would be "impossible" to mourn appropriately with just 10 people.
The service was held yesterday at his uncle's house; a Covid register was signed by all mourners for contact tracing and kept count of the numbers.
"By having a small initial gathering ... it allows us to put things on hold for a while and we can have a proper ceremony later on."
"Where there's a will, there's a way," Wills said, but
The many cars outside the home had attracted police attention who Wills said were respectful when approaching the family to see what was going on.
Wills said the family understood the decision the Government made and praised their swift changes after listening to the concerns of people.
"[Ardern] was just trying to protect our whanau that are still alive."
Clark said the virus was seen to spread at funerals around the world.
A funeral of 100 people in the US led to an outbreak resulting in 30 deaths, three funerals in South Africa led to 200 cases, and 143 cases in Canada have been linked to one funeral home.
Clark said New Zealand clusters were from events where people mix and mingle.
In two weeks time, Cabinet would review the guidance around group-size but these were very specific situations.
A police media spokeswoman said the police understood the restrictions added to the difficulty when dealing with the death of a loved one.
She said they would work with the families prior to any service to remind them of the restrictions and encourage them to work with funeral directors.
"Police will continue to take an education-first approach to enforcing current restrictions and will work with families, iwi, businesses and community groups to ensure public safety."
Funerals and tangihanga at Level 2
* Up to 50 people can attend.
* Funeral directors register with the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of Health must be satisfied that a range of public health measures can consistently be met.
* Public health measures include, maintaining physical distance, hand hygiene facilities.
* Food and drink is allowed: groups of no more than 10 people eating together, individual portions, no alcohol.
-Unite Against Covid-19 website.
Further guidelines from the Ministry of Health
• The length of indoor gatherings should stay under two hours.
• If a viewing of the deceased person or tūpāpaku is held in a private dwelling, marae, church, community hall, mosque or the like, there can be multiple viewings, but no more than 50 people at a time.
• The limit of up to 50 people excludes workers.
• Each group of up to 50 people, will be considered as 'one cohort' with the expectation that they will not interact with any other cohort in or around the premises/venue. People within each cohort will need to maintain physical distancing, particularly from people they don't normally live with.