MP’s are to debate new legislation that will bring in a package of emergency measures to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

Whilst the legislation deals with a raft of proposals on public health grounds, medical provision and border controls, it also deals with the possible increase in mortality rates.

The legislation proposes significant changes to the way deaths are recorded, which includes the easing of requirements upon coroners to sign death certificates when other health practitioners aren’t available.

The proposed legislation will also allow funeral directors to register deaths on behalf of families if they are unable to make the arrangements due to being quarantined. Registrars will also be allowed to accept electronic copies of documents to carry out the registration.

The requirement for a second confirmatory medical certificate to be presented before a cremation takes place is to be removed to free up medical staff.

With regards to the “management” of deaths, local authorities will be allowed to streamline their services, which includes increasing the operating times for crematoriums and directing the movement of bodies. This will include co-opting forms not involved in the funeral sector to provide support where necessary.

The National Association of Funeral Directors report, on their website, that they support these changes to legislation, calling on the government to ensure that funeral service workers are key workers. They state that they “believe the legislation, combined with ongoing dialogue at both a national government and local resilience forum level, will enable the funeral profession to properly care…at a very difficult time”.

Some local authorities have already taken measures to protect the public and staff during the outbreak. Several crematoria, including Yeovil Crematorium run by South Somerset District Council, have suspended public facing services during the outbreak. Staff at the Yeovil site will still be operating services and responding to telephone calls and email enquiries, but waiting rooms, offices and chapels will be closed to the public. Cremations will still take place, but all public services will be suspended due to social distancing. Grounds will remain open to the public.

Cllr Peter Gubbins of South Somerset DC stated that “This has been an incredibly hard decision for us to make but the safety of the public and those that operate the site has to be our priority. The risks of continuing to hold public services at this time are too great and we will be working with local funeral directors to ensure they are fully informed. This is not something the council wants to do, nor takes lightly but, given the difficult circumstances, is a sensible course of action.”