Body Repatriation during COVID-19
Body repatriation during COVID-19 is a complicated and costly process. If a loved one dies abroad of Coronavirus these guidelines may help you to decide how best to repatriate the remains to the UK.
Why is body repatriation during COVID-19 different?
Due to the highly infectious nature of COVID-19 there are strict guidelines as to how to deal with patients and corpses. Although the body after death is not as infectious, full protection is worn by anyone in contact with it. Also strict safety measures need to be respected. For this reason, body repatriation during COVID-19 requires a great deal of patience, planning, and paperwork.
How do I find help?
Different countries will have different regulations and requirements. You should contact the British Embassy or Consul in the relevant country and ask for their assistance. They will be able to advise you what the local rules are. Some countries will require embalming of the body before it can leave the country. Most countries, including the UK, require that it must be embalmed before entering. This, however is against the WHO advice as it involves more handling of the body and so increases the risk to those involved.
For the latest information and requirements check this government site.
How is the body shipped?
Bodies are shipped as international freight. The cost has always been quite expensive, but now, with limited flights, and tough restrictions, prices are much higher.
Currently, most airlines will require embalming of the body and all require that it is in a sealed coffin. This coffin must be zinc-lined and the body should preferably also be in a sealed plastic body bag. The airline will require all the necessary paperwork to accompany the body. These include, the death certificate along with an English translation (if necessary). Also, a letter of permission from the coroner that the body can be removed. And, finally a certificate of the embalming of the body and the sealing of the coffin.
Do I need the services of a funeral director?
Yes. An international funeral director will be able to arrange the transfer from the morgue to the airport and upon arrival they will coordinate the retrieval storage of the body. This service is also not cheap but an international funeral director can make the process as simple and fast as possible.
A limited number of people will be able to attend the funeral and they must observe social distancing. The coffin can not be opened and mourners will not be able to see or touch the body.
What other options are there?
Some people are burying their deceased where they die with the idea to later exhume them and bring them home when the situation improves.
Alternatively, you can hire a local funeral director to arrange a cremation in the country where the death occurs. Shipping the ashes is much easier and cheaper. Or, someone can fly there and bring back the ashes in their luggage. A Scatter tube is an ideal way to transport ashes on an airplane.