The health department has released directives outlining how patients who succumbed to COVID-19 are to be handled and buried.

Resource details:

Publication title: Amended health directions

Author(s): Department of Health

Publication date: 25 May 2020

What the directives are about:

The health department provides clarity on how the bodies of people with COVID-19 are to be handled on their death with these amended directives. 

The directives explain what precautions those handling and preparing the bodies of deceased people with COVID-19 should take. The document also clarifies the restrictions on burials. 

Key take-aways from the directives:

  • Individuals handling the remains of someone with COVID-19 should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, masks and waterproof coveralls. These individuals should also ensure that they thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water.
  • Should someone with COVID-19 die at home, family members should not handle the body themselves. Emergency Medical Services (EMS) should be alerted and the body must be removed by an undertaker.
  • The bodies of deceased COVID-19 patients should be carefully transported in body bags. The outside of these body bags should be thoroughly disinfected. After being used, empty body bags must be cut and disposed of as healthcare waste.
  • Families viewing the deceased’s body should wear gloves and masks. Family members can only view the remains one at a time and viewing can only take place at a mortuary or hospital. The health department discourages family members from washing and preparing the deceased’s body themselves. 
  • To limit contact with the remains, embalming is discouraged. Should the body be embalmed, the necessary personal protective gear and precautions should be worn and taken. 
  • Only close family members are allowed to attend the funeral of a person who died of COVID-19. Funeral services should be kept as short as possible and cannot exceed two hours. Individuals who have COVID-19 at the time of a funeral, are barred from attending burial services. Individuals handling the body at the burial should wear PPE and wash their hands once the burial has concluded.
  • Local and metropolitan municipalities have to identify suitable cemeteries and crematoria for the remains of people with COVID-19, along with land which may be required for mass burials, should the need arise. These mass burials could occur if the death rate exceeds the available space needed to keep the bodies of the deceased. Mass burials should respect the human dignity of the deceased and ensure that their remains can be identified. This responsibility lies with municipalities.  

You can find and download the directives here.

[26 August 2020 update: Sandile Buthelezi, the department of health’s director-general, issued a circular to health workers and funeral undertakers on August 12. Human remains should be tested for SARS Cov-2 infection prior to burial. This applies to deaths at home and in health facilities. According to the document, this is to help ensure that more accurate records are kept for COVID-19 related deaths. The circular can be accessed here.] 


[Please note: Information on the new coronavirus is rapidly changing. Please refer to the Department of Health for the latest information. Visit www.sacoronavirus.co.za for updates on South Africa’s coronavirus response.]