Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on preparation for burial or cremation for religious organisations, faith and cultural groups

Guidance for religious organisations, faith and cultural groups regarding the handling of presumed COVID-19 virus in the deceased, specifically for the completion of required religious or other preparations in advance of burial or cremation.

5 Jun 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance on preparation for burial or cremation for religious organisations, faith and cultural groups

Wider engagement

All religious organisations, faith and cultural groups offering burial or cremation services should, as good practice, continue to engage with and build upon existing links and/or networks with their local health board and/or local authority. 

This will help ensure you are aware of any relevant implemented action or developments in that board or authority’s area which may arise in the ongoing response to the current pandemic.

The medical certificate of cause of death (MCCD) 

When doctors complete the Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) they will consider a range of factors in order to determine whether, on balance, “COVID-19 Disease” or “presumed COVID-19 disease” can legitimately be recorded as the cause of death. The hazards box on the MCCD/Form 11 (DH1) will then be ticked, but PF box left unticked.

On 20 May 2020, the Chief Medical Officer issued Updated Guidance to Medical Practitioners for Death Certification during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This updated guidance sets out that the Lord Advocate has now directed that any death due to COVID-19 or presumed COVID-19 must be reported by medical practitioners to the Procurator Fiscal[1] if the deceased person was a resident in a care home when they contracted the virus, or where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a person contracted the disease in the course of their employment or occupation.

Information for families on this process can be found on the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s website.

Following temporary suspension of the service in March as an emergency measure in response to the pandemic, the Death Certification Review Service (DCRS) resumed random MCCD reviews from 11 May 2020.  DCRS continue to provide advice to doctors on death certification and also provision of other normal services, such as authorising repatriations.

Registration of a death

National Records of Scotland (NRS), working with Scottish Government and local authorities, has now moved to a remote registration model for all registrations of deaths and still-births.

NRS has also created a dedicated FAQ page on how the registration service now functions.

COVID-19 deceased and infection risk: current advice

The Scottish Government has separately published guidance for funeral directors.

This document  is relevant for faith and cultural groups who  directly handle and care for the deceased. It should be used to help inform safe working practice and processes.

There is a small risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission from the deceased, particularly from the recently deceased people. To appropriately manage this risk, the usual principles of Standard Infection Control Precautions (SICPs) and Transmission-Based Precautions (TBPs) continue to apply to those handling the deceased that are presumed to have been infected with COVID-19.

Measures to mitigate the risk of infection and the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to use is set out in our guidance for funeral directors

Important note: To make sure you are using the most up-to-date guidance, regularly check our website.

Preparation of COVID-19 deceased for burial or cremation: faith or cultural requirements

Based on current advice, faith or cultural requirements to prepare a deceased person in advance of burial or cremation e.g. ablution (washing the person’s body) can continue for presumed COVID-19 deceased.

However, where there is a presumed risk of COVID-19 being present, all actions involving handling and caring for the deceased person to prepare them for burial or cremation must be subject to all required infection control and risk management processes being in place. This is to protect those caring for the deceased and, as a minimum, requires the use of appropriate PPE for every person coming into contact with the deceased.

Due to the risk coronavirus (COVID-19) can present to those who are considered at higher risk from the virus, as a further precaution, it is recommended that higher risk people  do not take part in any faith or cultural based requirements to prepare a body for burial or cremation.

Persons handling the deceased

Public health advice on physical distancing should be adhered to. It applies to people preparing the deceased person for burial or cremation, alongside infection control  described above and in the guidance for funeral directors.

Religious organisations, faith and cultural groups should make reference to relevant guidance and implement its measures to ensure the number of people involved in any required preparations is safely kept to a minimum as often as possible, if they have not done so already. 

Keeping up to date and following wider public health advice at all times is vitally important to help prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Scottish Government advice on physical distancing is available.

Funeral services

The Scottish Government has published guidance setting out the restrictions on funeral service attendance at this time can.

[1] There remain other situations when the death of a person with COVID-19 disease or presumed COVID-19 disease must be reported to the Procurator Fiscal, for example, where the death is suspicious. These situations are listed in the guidance linked above.