Mourners could safely attend funerals: Experts
Mourners travelling from interstate should be allowed to break quarantine to attend funerals provided they adhere to disease control measures - including returning a negative COVID-test and refraining from physical contact, infection control experts say.
Experts told The Courier-Mail the level of infection control required should depend on where the person had travelled from, and the exemption should not be offered to COVID-positive people or contacts of known cases.
Professor of epidemiology Marylouise McLaws, who is an adviser to the World Health Organisation, said it is possible for interstate visitors to safely attend a funeral without quarantining.
"Funerals are a very important cultural passage through grief, be it a religious passage or psychological passage and I think that we need to be able to make them safe," she said.
Professor McLaws said that a person travelling from Melbourne for a funeral (who has not undertaken 14 days of hotel quarantine) should sign a declaration they have had no symptoms for two weeks, return a negative COVID test, go directly to the funeral or the hospital to say their goodbyes, wear a face mask or face shield while exposed to other people, and refrain from any physical touching or singing.
"People have had outbreaks in funerals, but they haven't been asked to wear a mask and they probably haven't been able to keep social distancing," she said.
"If this doesn't work and we find that there are outbreaks, we have to then re-evaluate it, but we haven't tried it."
Mater's Director of Infectious Diseases Dr Paul Griffin said a funeral could be made COVID-safe for interstate travellers by combining the following measures: pre-screening guests, providing an option to watch the funeral online, promoting hand hygiene at the event, keeping social distance, potentially holding the event outside, reducing the duration of the funeral, staggering arrival times, and offering masks.
He said it must be ensured that anyone travelling from places like Melbourne and New South Wales wears a mask and was not a contact of a known case.
"I think keeping them here for the shortest time possible, and keeping them under quarantine except for attending the event which they are coming would be important as well," he said.
"On the whole I would be very confident that with all of those interventions, and that people would obviously be grateful for the opportunity, they would be adherent to all of those things, exercise some good judgment and some common sense, and therefore we can do this safely."
However, University of Queensland virology expert Associate Professor Ian Mackay said reducing the risk of COVID transmission by interstate travellers at funerals to an appropriate level would be far more complex.
"Theoretically it could (be possible), if you were to take something like the ebola suits with personal respirators and the whole thing," he said.
"You could go to a certain extreme where you could say the risk of catching anything at that funeral would be very very very low but that is a lot of cost, time, effort, complexity, it's a very big process.
"If you had a few people who didn't comply in amongst that group you would be back to square one.
"I can't see it working out very easily."
A Queensland Health spokesperson said restrictions around funerals were about preventing Queenslanders dying.
"It's tough for anyone to lose a loved one - and we're trying to stop preventable COVID-19 deaths," the spokesperson said.
"Quarantine is one of our best defences against COVID-19. The AMA Queensland - the peak body representing doctors in Queensland - backs our stance on borders and funerals."
The comments come after the Palaszczuk Government has come under fire for their tough border stance and the heartbreaking accounts of grieving relatives unable to properly farewell loved one
Elena Turner drove three hours from her COVID-free town in northern NSW to Queensland on Tuesday, where she was given five minutes to privately say goodbye to her son Wayne, who tragically died last week in hospital. She had to wear full PPE, could not touch him, could not attend a funeral and had to return to her car straight after to drive back across the border without stopping.
Canberra resident Sarah Caisip was also only allowed to view her father's body while dressed in extensive protective equipment and under police guard. She too could not attend the funeral and was not allowed to have any contact with her mother or 11-year-old sister.
Originally published as Mourners could safely attend funerals: Experts