Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for funeral directors

Published: 25 Nov 2020
Last updated: 27 Apr 2021 - see all updates

This guidance is for funeral directors to help manage their services during the current pandemic.

22 page PDF

664.4 kB

22 page PDF

664.4 kB

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for funeral directors
Infection risk from deceased individuals

22 page PDF

664.4 kB

COVID-19 infection risk from deceased individuals

Current evidence indicates that there does remain a small risk of COVID-19 infection from deceased individuals, particularly the recently deceased [1].  As a result, the usual principles of Standard Infection Control Precautions (SICPs) and Transmission-Based Precautions (TBPs) [2] apply for bodies that are presumed to be infected with coronavirus (COVID-19).

Funeral directors should be aware that in Scotland medical information continues to be confidential after death and there is a legal restriction on releasing details [3]

Those who are involved in handling a body will need to know if there is a risk of infection and what level of personal protective equipment (PPE) is appropriate to use. This is not specific to COVID-19, but applies to any infection risk from any disease.  If the hazards box is ticked on the MCCD/Form 11, the Form 14 and/or the cremation application form and COVID-19 infection is presumed, funeral directors should take protective measures, such as wearing appropriate PPE, as set out below. 

Those working in the funeral industry should continue to assess the risk in each case, taking account of any information provided by first responders, the family or carers, etc. to inform their response.  

Handling and care of deceased

Any infection risk from people who have died as a result of confirmed or presumed COVID-19 will primarily arise as a result of droplets or aerosols generated in post-mortem handling of the body, or by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces.

There is also likely to be a continuing risk of infection from the body fluids/tissues of the deceased where COVID-19 infection is a possibility. This will also present a residual hazard to those handling the deceased. 

There are currently no reliable data on how long the virus can persist under refrigeration conditions. Refrigeration should still be used, and the deceased should be considered a potential source of infection while they remain in the care environment whether refrigerated or not. The appropriate PPE should be worn whenever handling the deceased.

The environment

Current evidence indicates that infectious droplets or aerosols transmitting SARS-CoV-2 can remain on environmental surfaces for up to 72 hours [4]. Other human coronaviruses have been identified on environmental surfaces for up to nine days [8]. Therefore, cleaning environmental surfaces is essential. 

For more information see WHO: Infection prevention and control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19.

Other post-mortem action

No additional precautions are needed unless invasive post-mortem procedures are being undertaken, particularly with high speed devices, which would be considered an aerosol generating procedure. Further information is set out below.

[1] PHE, Guidance for care of the deceased with suspected or confirmed coronavirus, subheading ‘risk of transmission of COVID-19 from an infected body’

[2] Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Managing infection risks when handling the deceased, page 17-22

[3] Section 38(1) (d) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) states that the deceased’s health record is exempt from being released as it is personal information.  Sections 90 and 91 of the Public Health (Scotland) Act 2008 provide that the health board is to tell the person disposing of the body “the nature of the risk” and “any precautions the board considers should be taken” [3]

[4] WHO, Infection prevention and control for the safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19, Interim Guidance, 4 September 2020

[5] PHE, Guidance for care of the deceased with suspected or confirmed coronavirus, subheading ‘Characteristics of the virus that causes COVID-19’ ’ and Joint UK guidance Transmission characteristics and principles of infection prevention and control section 3 ‘survival in the environment’.

First published: 25 Nov 2020 Last updated: 27 Apr 2021 -