Funeral directors still have grave concerns over ban

THE Government’s announcement of an easing of the two-week ban on funerals and burials has not been met with much enthusiasm by one entity which represents a number of funeral homes.Minister of Local Government and Rural Development Desmond McKenzie said in a press statement Sunday that the adjustment would allow for the disposal of human remains in specially prescribed circumstances.

This includes bodies that are in an advanced state of decomposition; are not in an advanced state but have been recommended for immediate burial by appropriate health authorities; and the burial or cremation of indigent persons who die while in custody of the State. The measures took effect on Saturday.Head of the Jamaica Funeral Directors Association, Melvin Honeyghan said this barely helped the situation as cremation was not popular among families, and not many bodies being held by funeral homes were in a decomposed state. According to the funeral director, his business sees only an average of one cremation per fortnight, and a similar number is true for many other operators.“Only few people are going to have decomposed bodies…and how should I pay my workers after a period of time? Some of them will have to go home. It eases something, but not much,” he said, suggesting that the answer was to lift the ban completely. However, funeral directors would continue to function as best as is possible in the coming weeks.“I want to make it clear that only the clergy will be allowed to administer the final rites for persons who are buried or cremated in these three circumstances. No family gathering will be allowed. The current order prohibiting burials remains in effect,” Minister McKenzie said.

He also said approval has been given to allow families to obtain death certificates for submission to the Registrar General’s Department, to facilitate preparations for burials once the ban is lifted.“What this means is that effective Monday, March 15, the Registrar General’s Department will issue burial orders after receiving death certificates, so that families and funeral homes can make all the necessary arrangements for the final send-off of the deceased once the ban on burials is lifted. No burials are being authorised by this change,” he stressed.He said that as an additional measure to ensure compliance with the ban on burials, the municipal corporations would not be issuing interment orders, without which no final disposal of a body can be done.

“This ban on burials came about because of the total disregard for the COVID-19 protocols at gravesites all over the country, and the connection between this behaviour and the spike in cases and hospitalisations. The Government will continue to do everything to bring these numbers down and save lives,” he stressed.

The local government minister also indicated that the Government was considering additional proposals made by the stakeholders in the funeral industry. The prohibition took effect on May 8 under the Disaster Risk Management Act as part of measures to address the significant spike in COVID-19 cases across the island.Undertakers have been worried about a pile-up of bodies, added costs to both themselves and relatives of the deceased, and the overall effect on their businesses.Last week the Government had also advised that it was considering grants for stakeholders involved in the grave digging and construction aspects of the industry, such as those who build vaults.

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