What to do if someone dies of Covid-19 in your home

Coronavirus can be spread even after death, new regulations warn

New rules regarding the handling of bodies of Covid-19 victims have been gazetted and signed off by health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize. Image: 123rf/dolgachov
If someone dies of Covid-19 at home, you are not to touch the body at all, their clothing can only be touched by someone wearing gloves and then the garments must be disinfected with a substance containing 70% alcohol.

These are among the rules gazetted by the health department on Monday and signed off by health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.

The rules also dictate how bodies should be handled when being moved to mortuaries.

The regulations state that recently deceased bodies can still expel air from the lungs when being moved – posing a risk of Covid-19 spread even after death.

“In the event that a person infected with Covid-19 dies at home, family members must not, at any stage, handle the body. An EMS [emergency medical service] must be called immediately to confirm death before removal by an undertaker,” state the regulations.

“The belongings of the deceased person should be handled with gloves and cleaned with a detergent, followed by disinfection with a solution of at least 70% ethanol or 0.1% (1,000 ppm) bleach.

“Clothing and other fabric belongings of the deceased should be machine-washed with warm water at 60-90°C and laundry detergent. If machine washing is not possible, linens can be soaked in hot water and soap in a large drum using a stick to stir and being careful to avoid splashing. The drum should then be emptied, and the linens soaked in 0.05% chlorine for approximately 30 minutes. Finally, the laundry should be rinsed with clean water and the linens should be allowed to dry in full sunlight.”

This is to reduce the chances of the coronavirus spreading to other members of the household.

The regulations state that any handling, transporting or “final disposal” of Covid-19 victims’ bodies should only be done by people wearing “suitable personal protective clothing at all times”.

Municipalities should ensure that burials or cremations of infected bodies take place at “suitably approved” facilities.

“Metropolitan and district municipalities should ensure that they identify areas that may be utilised for mass burial should the need for same arise,” state the regulations.

A body bag should be used for transferring the body to the mortuary. Those handling the body at this point should use full PPE. The outside of the body bag and the trolley carrying the body must be disinfected.

“Once in the hospital or private mortuary, it would be acceptable to open the body bag for family viewing by family members (one at a time) only (mortuary attendant must wear full PPE) at the mortuary.

“Family must be provided with masks and gloves for the viewing and should not touch the body with bare hands.

“Washing or preparing of the mortal remains is allowed, provided those carrying out the task wear PPE such as gloves, masks and waterproof coverall and all PPEs used must be disposed of immediately. However, the washing and preparing of the mortal remains by family members is not encouraged due to the health risks.

“If the family wishes to dress the body, they may do so at the funeral undertaker’s premises prior to the body being placed in the body bag and those carrying out the task should wear PPE such as gloves, masks and waterproof coverall apron and all PPEs used must be disposed of immediately.”

The body, according to the new rules, may not be delivered prior to the burial or cremation.

“A funeral undertaker must deliver the mortal remains on the morning of burial and not the night before the burial, and must ensure that the remains are not touched during viewing.”


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