Covid-19 Delta outbreak: Tauranga funeral directors says vaccine pass checks cause extra stresses

A Tauranga funeral director says having to police vaccine passes for large groups of mourners could easily turn into a “nightmare” situation.

Under the orange setting in the new traffic light framework system, there are no gathering limits if everyone has a My Vaccine Pass both for indoor or outdoor venues.

The framework applies to funeral homes, marae, churches, mosques and other faith-based places of worship, hire venues or private homes.

If a venue chooses not to follow the vaccine pass requirements, funerals and tangihanga are limited to 50 people subject to one-metre distancing in a single, defined space.

Elliotts Funeral Services manager Neil Gedge said it offered both vaccinated and unvaccinated services. In the end, it came down to the wishes of bereaved families.

“We certainly can organise services for unvaccinated people as we always thoroughly clean our venue after each service and also have strict sanitation processes in place.”

However, Gedge said in terms of large gatherings for vaccinated-only services, ensuring everyone scanned in or showed their passes was going to be a “nightmare”, especially if attendees became upset with the checking process.

Gedge said the traffic light system had added another level of stress and meant extra staff were needed at services to help deal with the new requirements.

“Just imagine 100 to 150 people all turning up at once and trying to come in the door. It’s going to take some time to complete the vaccine pass checks.

“We’re not the [vaccine] police, and we certainly don’t want to be.”

Gedge said if the checking process was not managed well and people didn’t have their vaccine pass documentation they could have some very upset family members.

“Also, if an unvaccinated person managed to get into one of the vaccinated services we could be facing a fine of up to $15,000,” he said.

“It’s a case of just wait and see how this all pans out. But I think it’s going to be a nightmare just trying to make sure we physically check everyone has vaccine passes.”

The maximum penalty for a company that fails to enforce a Covid Protection Framework requirement is $12,000, or $15,000 for a court-imposed fine.

Legacy Funerals general manager Kiri Randall said her company had a new policy that meant the bereaved had to show their My Vaccine Pass to enter any of its three venues.

However, Legacy Funerals was trying to find other venues or alternative ways to assist unvaccinated people so they can take part in funeral services, she said.

Randall also said whether it was at a community hall or another building, it was vital that everyone had places to go to gather to say farewell to their loved ones.

“It’s all about ensuring we continue to look after and support the families of the deceased, no matter what their vaccination status is, as well as continuing to protect our staff.

“It is very important to the Legacy funeral team that our families have options.”

Tauranga’s Jones & Company Funeral Services director Chris Andrews said it had been “quite challenging ” for funeral directors and for the families adapting to the previous gathering restrictions.

“It’s been very hard for the families, particularly those who had to turn away some family members to keep the numbers down to within the gathering limits. And in some instances, only having the deceased’s husband or wife at the service and graveside.”

Andrews said the new traffic light system had definitely added another layer of restrictions for funeral directors and families to adjust to and manage.

“Fortunately so far, most of our families visiting us have come well prepared wearing masks, social distancing and contract tracing, and ready to have that conversation.”

“It definitely adds extra stress for everyone involved. The dilemma is what happens if an unvaccinated person unexpectedly turns up to attend a vaccinated-only service.

“Fortunately for us, the families make the call whether it’s a vaccinated service or not.

“In my experience to date, the families have been very good in adjusting to the new restrictions,” he said.

Bay Cremation Care owner Alistair Black also said most of services took place at the crematorium. Black said he could offer both vaccinated and unvaccinated services.

“Under the current mandate, we are being put into the unenviable position of having to police people’s vaccine passes.

“It’s going to be quite challenging for all funeral directors to do so, and for the deceased’s family to get their heads around it. But it’s what the Government requires us to do.”

Tauranga City Council closed The Chapel and Tui lounge at Pyes Pa Memorial Park on December 3 because it was unable to check vaccine passes for large groups of mourners and could not contact people prior to services.

Gareth Wallis, the council’s general manager of community services, said the council felt needing to check passes on arrival would cause “undue hardship” at a difficult time.

People can still visit their loved ones as usual at the cemetery, Willis said.

Gary Taylor, the Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand president, said it was still “very early days” for funeral directors adjusting to the traffic light system.

Taylor said he believed most funeral directors were comfortable offering both vaccinated and unvaccinated services, subject to gathering limits and a strict sanitation regime.

“We always ensure everything is cleaned down between services at a venue, and that means it’s probably one of the safest places to visit,” he said.

“I think possibly the biggest gripe from funeral directors is being put in the position of having to be the enforcement agency. No funeral director wants to be the vaccine pass policeman.

“Some funeral directors were putting on extra staff, some use Māori wardens and others security staff and also asking a family member to be a bit of friendly face at the door.”

“It will be a very trying time for funeral directors and families as they adjust to these changes. However, I’d say the vast majority will quickly adapt to what is required.”

Taylor said however, he wasn’t sure about the legalities of having to ask mourners to show photo identification if there were any concerns about the validity of their pass.

“Unless we ask for photo identification we’ll have to take people on face value.”

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