Important Note: This article was last updated on 13 January 2021.
The coronavirus (or COVID-19) outbreak has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation and the effects of the virus have affected the way each of us goes about our daily life. Funerals in Australia have also been impacted by coronavirus. However, looking at the experience of other countries around the world, so far Australia has fared comparatively well.
In this article, we’ll look at the following topics:
The Federal Government has activated social distancing restrictions that impact all funeral services in Australia. Further to this, social distancing restrictions may differ between jurisdictions and change with little notice. For the latest government information, advice and resources on COVID-19, please visit www.health.gov.au.
It is useful to look to other countries to get a sense of how funerals in this pandemic have been handled in different parts of the world.
In one of the most extreme cases, Italy announced a blanket ban on all public gatherings, including funerals. However, despite this, some Italians ignored the ban on funerals. In Sicily, a procession of 48 mourners was moving through the streets of Proto Empedocle when police were alerted by a passerby. Each of these mourners faced the possibility of a fine of 206 euros and even jail for up to 3 months.
In the US, President Donald Trump recommended that Americans avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. However, this was only a recommendation and funerals with greater numbers of mourners still proceeded.
Austria restricted gatherings to 5 or less people, and similar restrictions have followed for some other European countries.
With strict social distancing rules and travelling restrictions, depending on the jurisdiction, this essentially means there is a distinct possibility that not all people who wish to attend a funeral will be able to.
While at this stage it appears unlikely, if a ban on funerals were to come into force, the funeral will just be arranged with the funeral director and a priest for the last rites present. In practice, these funerals would essentially be non-attended burials and cremations.
Fortunately, in Australia, we have only had a relatively small number of deaths due to COVID-19. However, under the Federal Government’s worst-case scenario, it is estimated that the number of Australian deaths from coronavirus could be up to 150,000.
While this forecast is a worst-case scenario and it appears that we will avoid this outcome, it does raise the question of how people who have died from coronavirus will be treated by the funeral industry.
There have been several instances around the world where funeral directors have refused to pick up the bodies of those who have died from coronavirus. In the most widely reported incident, Luca Franzese was forced to keep the body of his sister in the house for more than 36 hours because funeral directors refused to collect her body.
These cases, however, appear to be remote incidents so far – and for the most part, funeral directors appear to be accepting coronavirus cases. In Australia, this question has not become widely tested due to the small number of deaths.
Should the need arise in Australia, we have agreed as a company that it would be our priority to survey the entire funeral market in Australia and quickly update the funeral director listings on our website to detail those who are (and are not) accepting coronavirus victims.
If the situation in Australia were to significantly worsen, another question that will need to be addressed is what to do with our dead.
Morbidly, satellite images show that Iran has been forced to build mass burial pits to deal with the sudden spike in the number of coronavirus deaths.
Meanwhile, the funeral industry in Italy has struggled to process the number of their deceased. Their morgues have been inundated and lines of coffins were formed for cremation outside crematoriums.
In the cremation process, it takes over an hour for a body to be fully cremated. Running a cremator for 24 hours a day would only allow you to cremate fewer than 24 bodies per day. Put this in the context that overnight, some countries are reporting over 1,000 dead, the math just doesn’t add up.
Thankfully, this now appears to be an unlikely outcome for us here in Australia.
As discussed above, with the current measures the Australian government has imposed, funerals are still permitted, albeit in line with local social distancing rules, including travel restrictions. However, this does not mean that we should not be careful and take additional precautions when organising funerals in the time of COVID-19. In fact, there are a number of very practical options that you should consider if you are arranging a funeral to minimise and prevent the spread of the virus.
One idea is to use the power of technology. Almost all funeral directors are now able to arrange a videographer to record a funeral for you, and some are even equipped to live-stream the service. This offers the opportunity for those who are unable to be physically present to virtually “attend” the funeral service from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
If you still want to have a traditional funeral service and minimise risk, you should consider holding the service in an outdoor area with plenty of room.
All funeral directors will be able to provide you with outdoor options for a service, whether it be at the graveside, a park, beach or other public event space. For more information on Graveside Funeral Services, see our Guide to Planning a Funeral Service.
You might also consider a green funeral – where a loved one is laid to rest in an environmentally friendly manner, be it in a green cemetery or designated bushland. This practice is becoming more common as Australians become more conscious of environmental issues. For more information about green funerals, see our Guide to Green Funerals in Australia.
Another alternative that is becoming increasingly popular is the direct cremation (otherwise known as a “no service, no attendance” cremation). With a direct cremation, the funeral home will organise the cremation of your loved one and then deliver the ashes to you. You can then organise a memorial service in your own time to farewell your loved one – this might be at a park, the beach, in your own garden or anywhere else that might have been meaningful to the deceased.
Unlike traditional funerals, where the coffin and the body need to be present at the service, memorial services allow families much more flexibility. There is no time limit as to when a memorial service can take place – a service that is weeks or even months after the death would not be out of place. In the context of COVID-19, families could easily opt to hold the service with family and friends when the threat has passed and it safe to meet in person again. For more information, see our Guide to Memorial Services.
In terms of price, direct cremations are by far the most cost-effective choice for families arranging funerals. In our Funeral Prices in Australia Report, we found that the average cost of a cremation with a service was $6,053 while the average cost of a direct cremation was $3,553. However, within this average price, the difference between the cheapest and most expensive direct cremation was $7,201. This underlines the importance of shopping around and getting multiple quotes.
Gathered Here can help you get quotes from 3 funeral directors. Simply fill out the short 6-question form here to get funeral price quotes from top-rated funeral directors in your area.
In these times of social distancing and potential financial hardship for many Australians, a direct cremation is worth serious consideration, even for those who may not normally have opted for this type of funeral.
While it seems premature at this time to begin planning for the death of loved ones due solely to coronavirus, it is always a good idea to be prepared – regardless of COVID-19. Generally speaking, prepaid funerals are the best way to plan for a funeral – allowing families to lock in the funeral at today’s prices and arrange all the details upfront (rather than having to guess at what their loved one would have wanted once they have already passed away). They are a far better funeral planning option than funeral insurance and even funeral bonds.
COVID-19 represents a 1-in-100 year event that the whole world is coming to grips with. While there is a high degree of uncertainty regarding how it may continue to impact the many facets of our lives, at least when it comes to funerals, we are able to predict with a greater degree of confidence how they will be affected, and the best ways to approach and organise funerals throughout the crisis.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave us a message in the comments section below.
Get peace of mind and write your will for free in less than 10 minutes.