File Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA)
File Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA)

Covid-19 hits funeral industry in the pocket

By Chulumanco Mahamba Time of article published Mar 24, 2020

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Johannesburg - Businesses in the funeral industry have taken a knock as a result of the coronavirus outbreak as customer cancellations have increased and money flow dipped.

Themba Makamo, the co-owner of Manyano Memorials, a tombstone manufacturing business, said the company had about 20 order cancellations in the past two weeks.

“We also have a lot of families who had already planned their unveiling so there were stones that we erected last year.

“Those families are now in a situation where they either have to cancel or continue but take into consideration the restrictions,” he said.

Makamo said the company was also concerned because Easter time was considered the tombstone unveiling season.

“The problem for us is that we only have this one season, once it gets past winter people don’t come and buy tombstones for unveiling so we have to wait for the next season,” he said.

Director at Kings and Queens Funeral Services, Mlandeli Madlala, said the funeral parlour chain had taken precautionary measures in its branches however their customer flow has taken a knock.

“People are hiding in their houses and not coming out and this 100 people restriction is impacting us because when our clients have a service, they want more than 100 people to come,” he said.

The National Funeral Practitioner’s Association of SA (Nafupa) was on Tuesday to meet with the officials of Health Department and other stakeholders in Durban to be briefed about the impact of Covid-19 on the funeral business.

“If we get hit like Italy with so many deaths per day, how are we going to be able to manage that? We want to know from the government what role they are going to play in terms of assisting us as an industry to contain the virus,” Nafupa secretary-general Julie Mbuthuma asked.

Mbuthuma said there were many added costs that the industry needed to deal with and precautionary measures that it was not aware of.

She said the issue went beyond the procedural precautionary measures but also cultural rituals that families perform before a burial such as the families bathing and dressing the deceased before the funeral.

“According to the media statements that we’ve seen, the family basically isn’t allowed to touch the body at all so if they aren’t allowed to touch the body, there are certain rituals that as the black community you do how are you supposed to do them if the family cannot see the body,” she said.

Professor Keertan Dheda, head of the Division of Pulmonology at the University of Cape Town, said studies have shown that the SARS-CoV-2 can survive on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours and up to 48 hours on cardboard.

He added that body fluids including nasal secretions, saliva, urine, and stool can contain the virus hence rituals where family members wash the deceased’s body are discouraged.

“For family members specifically wishing to be involved in washing the body, this should be under the guidance of the mortician at the funeral home and should be done with personal protection equipment including gloves, goggles, and preferably an appropriate mask,” he said. 


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