The reality of the impact of COVID-19 on every aspect of our lives is now beginning to sink in. The global travel sector and related industries that rely on international travel are desperately trying to plan for an uncertain and undoubtedly different looking future.

The effect of the travel restrictions on travel assistance companies and international funeral directors has been dramatic, with a sudden and significant decline in cases. Many companies in the UK and Europe have been forced to ‘furlough’ staff pending further information.

However, despite the travel ban, many foreign nationals remain overseas, either through choice (residents, expats, students) or in some cases simply travellers who were unable to make it home before the restrictions were implemented. Some inevitably succumb – either as a result of the virus or other natural causes – and their families will often want their human remains returned home for a local service. Although the number of cases is down, the current situation is adding to an already complex process and cases are taking longer to manage, primarily due to a combination of the following:

Varying country by country restrictions – some countries will not allow transport of human remains where there is any suspicion of COVID-19, instead insisting on local burial or more commonly, immediate cremation.

Reduced flight capacity – even if authorisation is obtained, there are fewer commercial flights operating and reduced capacity for ground transport and storage.

Increased safety measures – despite the standard practice of hermetically sealing/wrapping coffins, regulations require funeral directors to safeguard their employees with the provision of effective PPE and implementation of social distancing measures, where practical, and other safety procedures.

It is also worth noting the latest advice relating to funerals in the UK.

  • Services are generally direct to crematorium or graveside. Churches and cemetery chapels are not open for services at present due to social distancing rules.
  • Number of mourners to be as low as possible* to ensure a safe distance of at least 2 metres (6 ft) can be maintained between individuals
  • Alongside the Funeral Director, Chapel Attendant, and funeral staff only the following should attend:
    • members of the person’s household
    • close family members
    • or if the above are unable to attend, close friends
    • attendance of a celebrant of choice, should the bereaved request this

* general guidelines appear to be up to 10 in total although organisers should check with their local cemetery or crematorium. Guidance subject to change -further information can be found at

Whilst governments and industries around the world are all working tirelessly to find solutions, it is likely to be some time before these restrictions can be safely relaxed. In the meantime, our advice is to always sensitively manage expectations with families from the outset, as it may not always be possible to facilitate their exact wishes – especially in respect of funeral traditions of certain religions.

Fiona Greenwood is Operations Director at Rowland Brothers International.