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Debunked: Yes, funerals are very different right now but they are still happening

A message being shared makes specific claims about funeral arrangements for loved ones who die from Covid-19.

download Source: TheJournal.ie

DESPITE APPEALS FROM health officials for members of the public to get their information from official channels rather than social media, messages containing upsetting misinformation continue to be created and shared.

One message that has been shared in WhatsApp groups over the last week makes specific claims about funeral arrangements for loved ones who die from Covid-19. 

It advises that family members will not be allowed to see deceased loved ones or be able to arrange a funeral for them. 

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The messages states that loved ones will “only be informed that he or she is dead” and that the State will “take care of the disposal of the body”. 

This is not true. 

As mass gatherings are currently not allowed, services look different to usual but families are still able to hold funerals. 

Elizabeth Canavan, Assistant Secretary General at the Department of the Taoiseach, confirmed yesterday that immediate family members can still attend funeral services, burials and cremations, provided that social distancing rules are respected.

This relates to all funerals, including those arising out of Covid-19 deaths as funeral services are named on the ‘essential services’ list published by the government on Saturday. 

At the moment, “strictly private” funerals are being held by families of Covid-19 victims. Funeral directors in Ireland have been issued specific guidelines by the HSE regarding arrangements. 

These include advice regarding embalming, transport to funeral homes and funeral arrangements.  The coffin, for example, should remain closed and sealed.

A funeral should also be private and limited to those that the family identify as essential. 

The guidance, issued to protect employees of the funeral homes, states: “It is possible that close contacts of the deceased may have been exposed to Covid-19 infection through their interaction with the individual.

“Where possible interactions with family members should be limited. Practical approaches to achieve this include:

  • Physically separating yourself by at least one metre from members of the public
  • Avoiding handshaking
  • Asking family to designate a single point of contact, this person should where possible not have been in close contact with the deceased
  • Carry out conversations, provide instruction by telephone where possible

HSE guidelines for funeral directors also advise that families should limit contact with the deceased in a funeral home.

The current recommendation is that – if required – only a small number of people should attend the funeral home to pay their respects.

Regarding close contacts, the HSE advises that funeral directors should avoid contact with people identified as close contacts of the deceased, as identified by Public Health. 

If a family member or friend is not identified as being a close contact then the funeral can proceed as usual. 

If a family member or friend has been identified as a close contact of the deceased and wish to attend a service, the arrangements and feasibility of this should be discussed with the family and service providers sensitively beforehand, the HSE advises. 

Other advice includes:

  • Close contacts should be advised to use their own private transport to travel to and from the venue and to avoid contact with people other than members of their own household.
  • Those attending should be aware of the importance of regular hand hygiene and good cough etiquette. Direct contact between groups is not advised.

The guidelines also state that “in exceptional circumstances where family members have not had the opportunity to view the remains in the hospital mortuary the coffin can be opened” but that funeral home staff must wear appropriate PPE.

Last week, when public health advise was updated, restricting gathering of more than four people, further questions arose over whether holding funerals for loved ones was possible even if they hadn’t passed away from Covid-19 given the current climate. 

Yesterday morning, Canavan clarified matters. 

“Another sensitive issue that has arisen, and caused concern for people, over the course of this emergency is that of funeral services,” she said. “The Government’s critical services list issued on Saturday included funerals as one of those services.” 

Said Canavan: “The Government wants to ensure that families are able to bury their loved ones in a respectful manner while ensuring that all involved – mourners, funeral directors, celebrants and all involved in these services are protected from Covid-19.”

The HSE has already provided guidance in this regard and further guidance is now being developed and will be published shortly.

In the meantime, I can confirm that immediate family members can still attend funeral services, burials and cremations, provided that social distancing rules are respected. This relates to all funerals, including those arising out of Covid-19 deaths.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the Irish Association of Funeral Directors said: “Member firms of the IAFD continue to look after the needs and safety concerns of the bereaved, the public and our staff.

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“We are working with HSE guidance to allay fears of grieving families and to comfort those in anguish,” they added. 

“We have no reason to believe that the State will take over the management of funerals of those who die due to Covid-19,” they said. 

Speaking yesterday, Canavan further clarified attendance at funerals in Ireland.

“While we know this is difficult, in general, numbers attending should not exceed 10 persons in places of worship and at the graveside but this may be restricted further in smaller enclosed places,” she said. 

“Individual churches may also put in place restrictions which respond to specific local circumstances,” she added. 

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie 

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