Funerals cannot be the same again: Zweli Mkhize

We have to change the way we do things at funerals, the health minister said

19 April 2020 - 10:26
By Matthew Savides
Health minister Zweli Mkhize says South Africans have to change the way they do things at funerals.
Image: 123RF/funlovingvolvo Health minister Zweli Mkhize says South Africans have to change the way they do things at funerals.

Funerals are a “centre” for the spread of the coronavirus, and South Africans need to change their behaviour.

Hugging, kissing and consoling — and even digging the grave and sharing a communal meal — have been earmarked as areas of concern.

Speaking at a media briefing on Saturday night, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said that even though lockdown regulations meant no more than 50 people were allowed to attend a funeral, this wasn't enough to ensure that the coronavirus — and the potentially fatal Covid-19 respiratory illness it causes — was kept in check.

Mkhize announced that there were 3,034 confirmed Covid-19 cases in SA, with 52 confirmed deaths. This was an increase of 251 cases and two deaths from figures provided on Friday.

Mkhize said there were “various things” that happened at funerals which “might expose people to contracting Covid-19".

It is important for us to say that social distancing still remains a very important issue to curb this pandemic. Unfortunately, we've observed that quite often during funerals, as people are giving each other comfort and hugging, they'll be holding each other very closely, and some are crying, maybe some are coughing, and so on. These are some of the things that come naturally to us, but we just need to make our people aware that this is a matter of concern to us,” he said.

Mkhize added that when people use the same spades or picks to dig the grave, they could be sharing the virus among each other. This was especially the case if they weren't wearing gloves.

“Sometimes when they come back from the grave site, then they will be washing hands in one basin. Sometimes they go through a buffet meal, which means there is one spoon for everyone and therefore don't have a spoon per person.

“Therefore, we think that some of these issues are a real challenge. So we would like to ask our people now to change the approach as they deal with the issues of funerals,” he said.

Mkhize said lessons had to be learnt from a woman known as “patient 31" in South Korea, who went to a church gathering and also a buffet, resulting in a massive spread of the virus in that country.

“When we talk about the case in South Korea, one of the issues that we keep looking at is how, you know, an open buffet has actually been a factor in someone walking around touching the spoon and everyone is using the same spoon.

“These are some of the things that we must now start thinking about. This is now a new reality entirely. And, therefore, we need to now understand that there are changes in the way to normally do things that we must start looking at,” the minister said.

In particular, he said, officials in the Eastern Cape raised how funerals were a challenges, both in terms of movement and behaviour at the gathering.

"“And it looks like attending the funerals still has a huge challenge that might be creating, you know, centres where infection can spread. And so we need to alert our people that there is a challenge in this particular area,” he said.