Agenda item

Covid-19 Pandemic


The Bereavement Services Manager and Registrar presented a report, in order to update the Joint Committee on the arrangements at Coychurch Crematorium during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.


By way of background information, she advised Members that In March 2020, “The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020”, imposed restrictions for crematoria. This included allowing them to hold funeral services only if social distancing measures were introduced, ensuring a distance of 2 metres between all individuals on the premises (unless they were from the same household).  The regulations allowed only immediate family and close friends to attend the funeral service as long as it did not involve extensive travel and that those attending were:


           The person organising the funeral;

           Invited by the person organising the funeral;

           The carer of a person invited to attend the funeral.


Initially the regulations stated that the Crematorium grounds should remain shut to the public with only those officially attending funerals allowed access to the site. This resulted in the Crematorium grounds being closed for a short period which included the two-week Palm Sunday and Easter period. The regulations were quickly amended by Welsh Government allowing the Crematorium grounds to re-open for those invited to attend a funeral and to enable members of the public to lay flowers at a graveside.


As part of these tight restrictions, the larger chapel, Crallo, was the only chapel utilised and the chapel layout was adjusted under government social distancing rules.


The Bereavement Services Manager and Registrar added, that all staff worked at the facility throughout the pandemic with relevant PPE and social distancing measures in place. Risk assessments were carried out and regularly reviewed, and procedures adapted to enable the service to continue its normal duties.


She proceeded, by confirming that the administration office remained fully operational but was closed to the visiting public with all assistance provided over the telephone and via e-mail/postal correspondence. Funeral Directors were provided with access to the office via an intercom service in order to deliver forms and deliver/collect urns and were additionally allowed to deliver forms electronically. They were provided entry to the office via the use of screens and additionally hand sanitizer was provided. Staff at the Crematoria also socially distanced, with work stations adapted where appropriate.


The Bereavement Services Manager and Registrar, continued by advising that extra measures were implemented to ensure the Crematorium did not become overwhelmed during the pandemic.  Funeral service times were restricted to thirty minutes and additional service times were introduced to increase the daily capacity from a maximum of ten funerals to fourteen, to ensure that the bereaved did not have a long wait for a service to take place. Additional staff members were redeployed into the service to enable additional cremator technicians to be trained to ensure resilience and business continuity, with shift patterns also put in operation out of normal working hours.


At the height of the pandemic, funeral attendance numbers were restricted to ten and then relaxed to twenty when it became safer to do so, to try to protect staff and mourners from infection. Risk assessments were carried out and regularly reviewed during this important time. Mourners continued to be provided with the option to stream the funeral service over the internet and to record the service. They were also reminded of the option to hold a memorial service at a later date. While the Crematorium was placed under pressure during the Covid-19 pandemic, it was never close to being overwhelmed she was pleased to confirm.


The Bereavement Services Manager and Registrar at this time, held regular briefings and communications with Funeral Directors to ensure that Welsh Government pandemic regulations were observed and that all Crematorium procedures and strategies were fully understood as the pandemic unfolded and progressed.


Turning more to the present position, she referred Members to paragraph 4.1 of the report and a table that provided a comparison of the number of funeral services during 2019 and for the same period in 2020. 2020 showed a significant increase to 2019 for the months shown, ie January to June, inclusive.


The Bereavement Services Manager and Registrar assured the Joint Committee, that Coychurch Crematorium continued to operate under pandemic regulations.  In order to adhere to Welsh Government legislation and that of Public Health Wales regarding social distancing, local measures remain in place restricting funeral attendance, selected by prior invitation.


The health and wellbeing of bereaved families, funeral directing teams, Council staff and their families, and the wider community, continued to be the Crematorium’s highest priority and Welsh Government guidance was being monitored accordingly, she explained.


The Bereavement Services Manager and Registrar concluded her submission, by stating that numbers attending funerals was under constant review in accordance with Welsh Government guidance. The Crematorium service remains appreciative of how difficult this pandemic period is for bereaved families and their friends as it continues to manage the service safely.


A Member asked if the levels of funeral services had now started to return to a normal level in terms of numbers, following the initial surge due to the Covid-19 pandemic.


The Bereavement Services Manager and Registrar advised that numbers were returning more to normal, though occasionally the Crematorium were being advised of a Covid-19 related death still. Though presently, the impact of the virus had subsided. There was a possible second wave anticipated however, but hopefully that would not materialise, she added.


The Chairperson closed debate on this item by stating that the table in the report and the figures illustrated within that, gave a sad reflection in terms of the extent the virus has had on individuals and their families.


RESOLVED:                             That the Joint Committee noted the report.


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