Even family will not be able to attend funeral services under the country's level four lock-down, the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand says.

Gary Taylor, the association's president, said he got confirmation today from the Ministry of Health that nobody would be able to attend funeral services or burials.

"Prior to that they had told us there could be gatherings, but that's been reeled back now - there are no funeral services.

"That has a huge implication for families going forward. The very act of gathering together and providing support to each other is really important to a family's mental wellbeing, as they process what has happened to them.


"As much as we are absolutely behind the Government's restrictions and we understand what they are for, it does mean that families are going to suffer."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

There are about 90 deaths every day in New Zealand. The restrictions will impact cultural and religious practices. For example, according to Islamic law a person should be buried as soon as possible from the time of death.

Taylor, who runs a funeral service in Northland, said some funerals would already be planned for the coming days and funeral directors would have to work their way through that with families.

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There were options for grieving families, including holding a memorial service once the lockdown ends, hopefully in four weeks.

"Potentially with modern embalming the deceased could even be kept at our premises for that period of time, if that's what the family wanted. Or, cremated and buried and then the memorial service to take place once these restrictions are relaxed a bit."

Livestreaming services has become more common but wouldn't really be an option - only a celebrant or minister could attend in person, and as such watching from isolation at home wouldn't give much sense of togetherness.


The extraordinary Covid-19 restrictions could well mean that people die alone, and are buried or cremated without the presence of family and friends.

"The word sad doesn't adequately express the awful situation that would be, for that individual and those people that would have been part of acknowledging their life. That is so important to us as human beings, to be able to grieve correctly and properly ... we are going to have a lot of families in the future who have unresolved issues around the death of their loved one."

Under level four lockdown the transfer of bodies from hospitals, hospice or homes would still take place, and funeral service staff would wear personal protective equipment.

However, Taylor said that gear was running desperately low, and his association had asked the Ministry of Health to help secure new supplies. There was a low risk of transmission from a deceased person, but caution was still needed.

According to the Ministry of Health, any event with public congregation must close, including weddings and funerals/tangi. This will apply for the next four weeks from March 23.

Taylor said funeral services could cope with a "sizeable" increase in the number of deaths, if that were to happen because of the spread of Covid-19.


"But there would come a point where we would require some government intervention around storage, and government intervention around burials and cremations - relaxing some of the rules around the cremation process and have immediate access to burial plots in cemeteries at short notice."

He was stunned at the situation.

"It's like being in a sci-fi movie. This is the single biggest event that probably most of us will ever experience. We shouldn't be surprised at anything."