Up to 50 people to be allowed at funerals and tangihanga

5:48 pm on 13 May 2020

Up to 50 people will be allowed at funerals and tangihanga if strict public health measures are in place, the government has announced.

Health Minister David Clark and Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield have made the announcement about the new rules.

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The health measures include physical distancing and hand hygiene, with no food and drink able to be served afterwards.

From tomorrow, funeral directors will be able to submit a form that registers for an exemption to allow up to 50 people to attend a funeral, as long as the Ministry of Health is satisfied that the director can meet criteria.

"Funeral directors will essentially submit a form which covers off the detail of how they will manage the risk that is presented in gatherings, the kind of public health measures that they will have in place, how they'll provide contact tracing information, physical distancing measures, hand hygiene and the like and give assurances around suitable sanitation of the facilities between gatherings."

Clark told Lisa Owen on Checkpoint that funeral directors would need to submit a form for each funeral that they expect to conduct because it will be venue specific and each venue will have different challenges with spacing requirements.

"It will mean more family and friends will be able to meet together and grieve together," Clark said.

Dr Bloomfield said the forms and guidance will be available today, meaning funerals that are happening the next few days could have 50 people in attendance.

Clark said funerals and tangihanga have been one of the most difficult situations to deal with.

"As someone who's a funeral celebrant, I'm very aware of the challenges families are facing at this time."

He said the virus had spread at funerals around the world as well as a second wave of infection taking hold just as countries were getting on top of the virus, like New Zealand is now.

He said one funeral in the United States, which had 100 people, lead to 30 deaths.

Clark said ministers had been meeting with church leaders, funeral directors and iwi leaders over the past 24 hours.

"Funerals are exceptional events and have been one of the most difficult areas of restriction that we've considered as we try to avoid the double tragedy of losing a loved one and spreading the virus.

"The strength of our response to this virus has been in our agility to respond and we have listened to the concerns of the 10-person limit for funerals and moved on that - while emphasising they still pose a significant risk in setting us back.

"Our clusters of the virus represent a slice of Kiwi life - events where people mix and mingle - and any spread at these events could make the difference between moving forward with confidence and going backwards.

"I'm pleased that we have found a workable solution that that keeps people safe, while at the same time allowing more people to gather and grieve together."

Clark said the sector had assured him they would be able to manage the 50 group size.

Clark told Checkpoint the move to increase the number allowed to attend funerals at level 2 from 10 to 50 was made after the funeral sector itself stepped up and said it was able to manage the situation adequately with the appropriate public health measures.

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The government has faced pressure from the opposition, iwi and the public since Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced plans to move into alert level 2 on Monday.

Ardern initially said tangihanga and funerals must observe a limit of 10 people, but clarified yesterday that "rolling" tangihanga - of 10 people at a time, moving through - would be allowable.

National Party leader Simon Bridges followed through on warnings that his party would oppose urgent legislation allowing enforcement of alert level 2 if the rules around this rule of 10 did not change.

However, today's announcement was not enough to appease Bridges, who was unhappy numbers allowed at church services still had not been raised.

The party has also raised other concerns around civil liberties.

While he was glad to see the government backdown, Bridges said the new rule was incoherent, inconsistent policy that lacked a health basis.

"If there had been, I wouldn't have expected the government and Minister Clark and the Director General to stick to their guns," he said.

The change was progress, he said, but it was still an unkind policy and he believed the cap should be at 100 people.

He said it was disappointing the government still had not addressed concerns about people not being able to gather in places of worship.

New Zealand moves into alert level 2 at 11.59pm tonight.

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Health Minister David Clark. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

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