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

Published: 6 Apr 2020

Directorate:Population Health Directorate Part of: Coronavirus in Scotland, Health and social care, Public safety and emergencies

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

This document is part of a collection

Published:6 Apr 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)

Following the issuing of a letter from the Chief Medical Officer, the Death Certification Review Service (DCRS) has now temporarily suspended all random MCCD review from 26 March 2020. They however continue to provide advice to doctors and provision of other normal services, such as authorising repatriations.

Registration of a death

National Records of Scotland, working with Scottish Government and Local Authorities, has now moved to a remote registration model for all registrations of death.

The latest information can be accessed on their  website . A dedicated FAQ page has also been prepared for how the registration service now functions.

COVID-19 deceased: current advice

Health Protection Scotland continue to update and issue a collection of resources regarding effective infection prevention and control for coronavirus (COVID-19).

Public Health England guidance, based upon evidence shared with all health protection agencies across the UK which informs their guidance and response to the current pandemic, specifically addresses handling of COVID-19 deceased.[1]

This guidance sets out that there does remain a small risk of COVID-19 infection, particularly from the recently deceased. As a result and to manage this risk, the usual principles of Standard Infection Control Precautions (SICPs) and Transmission-Based Precautions (TBPs) continue to apply for those handling the deceased that are presumed or confirmed to be infected with coronavirus (COVID-19)

Other relevant Health Protection Scotland guidance for religious organisations, faith and cultural groups that should be reviewed for best practice regarding infection prevention and control is COVID-19 – guidance for non-healthcare settings.

Important note: all documentation must be checked regularly to ensure the most recent version is being worked from. Updates are being made regularly by Health Protection Scotland.

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

Based upon current advice, as outlined above, faith or cultural requirements to prepare a body in advance of burial or cremation e.g. carrying out ablution (washing of the deceased) may continue for presumed or confirmed COVID-19 deceased.

However all actions involving handling and caring for the deceased, to prepare them for burial or cremation, must be subject to all required infection control and risk management processes being in place to protect those undertaking that action.

As current guidance notes, the principles of Standard Infection Control Precautions (SICPs) and Transmission Based Precautions (TBPs) continue to apply during the current pandemic. These principles are set out in detailed Health and Safety Executive guidance (pages 17-22).

Based upon current guidance, the Royal College of Pathologists has also issued a document which may assist you when preparing to handle and care for the deceased. This is Transmission based precautions: Guidance for care of deceased during COVID-19 pandemic.

NHS Inform advice: persons handling the deceased

NHS Inform advice on social distancing must be adhered to and followed in all circumstances. It continues to apply to those persons who would be preparing the deceased for burial or cremation, as well as the requirements set out above.

Religious organisations, faith and cultural groups should examine how and implement, if they have not done so already, measures to ensure the number of persons involved in any required preparations is safely kept to the minimum number possible.

Following NHS Inform advice at all times is vitally important to help prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

NHS Inform advice: funeral services

It is also important to continue to practice infection control measures during all funeral services.  This is done by following NHS Inform advice.

NHS guidance for all people regarding social distancing and shielding for high risk groups must be followed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Those attending a service should remain 2 metres (6 feet) apart during any service (except where they are from the same household, or a carer and the person is assisted by the carer).

Only close family should attend the funeral (or if there are no family, a friend) numbers kept to the minimum possible and others, or those at high risk of infection such as people over the age of 70, should not attend in person or should attend electronically e.g. by video link or by phone. 


[1] Public Health England, Guidance for care of the deceased with suspected or confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) Relevant sections are ‘General information on the risk of COVID-19 from deceased bodies’, ‘Guidance for professionals who manage the deceased’ and ‘Transmission-based precautions for coronavirus (COVID-19)’.