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Funeral services in Singapore prepare for more COVID-19 deaths, adapt to special requests

Funeral services in Singapore prepare for more COVID-19 deaths, adapt to special requests

Funeral service workers handle a casket during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Singapore Casket)

SINGAPORE: Undertakers in Singapore are preparing to hold more services for COVID-19 deaths, and some funeral services said how relatives remember those who pass on has changed during the pandemic.

On Wednesday (Oct 20), Singapore recorded 18 deaths due to complications from COVID-19, its highest daily count since the pandemic started. Another 16 deaths were logged on Thursday, taking Singapore's total COVID-19 fatalities to 280.

Singapore Casket general manager Calvin Tang told CNA that it has handled about 20 COVID-19 funerals in October, double the number for the whole of last month.

Mr Tang said that he is trying to ensure that the company has enough manpower to handle the increasing number of services and he's had to recall workers on their days off.

"We are also handling other funerals, not just for COVID-19, and all the families need to be well taken care of," he said. "With the number of cases getting more and more ... we have to plan very carefully."

Mr Ang Ziqian, managing director of Ang Chin Moh Funeral Directors, said it has stockpiled "months and months" of supplies including personal protective gear, learning from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2003.

Even before Singapore recorded its first death from COVID-19 last year, the company told employees that they would have to "step up" to handle deaths, Mr Ang said.

Mr Jeffrey Lee of Simplicity Casket, a subsidiary of Singapore Casket, said the company began receiving more enquiries since end-September, including some special requests.

For example, some families authorised the undertaker to handle the funeral – from collection of the body until cremation – without their presence due to health and safety reasons, he said.

Manpower is also tight as the company avoids assigning employees to a second task after completing a COVID-19 funeral.

"They will come back to office to shower themselves and wash hair before going for the next task. So we need extra manpower," he said.

Singapore Casket undertakers in personal protective gear. (Photo: Singapore Casket)

SIMPLER FUNERAL SERVICES

In general, funerals have become simpler and there have been more requests for direct cremations, some said.

Funeral wakes sometimes lasted for five days in the past, but now tend to be three days or fewer, said Mr Darren Ho, funeral director at Singapore Funeral Sanctuary.

He has also received many more requests for direct cremations without holding a wake.

Wakes are also quieter – while music is still allowed, wind instruments are not and the number of attendees is limited.

Current safety management measures allow for a maximum of 30 people at any one time at the wake or at burials and cremations. Guidelines state that religious workers, funeral staff and musicians should be kept to a minimum.

Mourners are asked to minimise their interactions with fellow attendees and no buffet set-up or reception with food and drinks is allowed. Providing packet drinks or individually packed titbits is also not allowed.

"Since these items are perishables, we have no choice to throw it away once it is near the expiration date," said Mr Ho.

A company van from Ang Chin Moh Funeral Directors. (Photo: Ang Chin Mo Funeral Directors)

Mr Tang said that Singapore Casket has set up more livestreaming services for family members and friends who cannot be physically present at the last rites.

Some also request photos to be taken and sent to them so that they can preserve the memories of their loved ones, he said.

With the number of COVID-19 fatalities rising, Mr Ang said he decided to start a campaign urging people to get vaccinated.

"There's a lot of messaging out there ... but if the message comes from a funeral company, it emphasises that there are dire consequences if you don't get vaccinated," he said.

"If we don't keep (infection) numbers down, the frontline workers are going to be overwhelmed ... and the next frontline professionals to be overwhelmed will be us in funeral services, if the deaths keep on rising."

Source: CNA/hm(cy)

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