French undertakers live streaming funerals as families told to stay away during lockdown

As families are forced to stay away from their loved ones' funerals by France's coronavirus lockdown rules, undertakers have begun setting up live video links for grieving families.

French undertakers live streaming funerals as families told to stay away during lockdown
Illustration photo: AFP

Across Europe, grieving families are having to cope with the additional trauma of draconian restrictions to stop the spread of the epidemic.

In France, children have been banned from the bedsides of their dying parents for fear of bringing the virus into nursing homes.

Mourners at funerals have also been ordered not to hug.

 As well as travel bans, France has limited the number of people allowed to attend funerals to just 20.   

“It broke our hearts, but my sister and I had to give up going to the funeral,” Parisian Emmanuelle Caradec told AFP, after her grandmother died in Nantes, 400 kilometres to the west.

“What I am going to say is terrible to hear,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said, “but we have to limit travel as much as possible even in these circumstances.

“There cannot be exceptions,” he added.

READ ALSO France's lockdown rules – your questions answered

“When you love someone, you have to stop yourself hugging them,” Philippe warned a nation where the standard greeting is a kiss on both cheeks.

“It's terrible, and counter-intuitive, but please, we have to do it.”

With funeral services severely limited, and condolence books withdrawn for fear of infection, there has been no exceptions, even for stars of big screen.

The families of actress and director Tonie Marshall and veteran French star Suzy Delair had to abandon requiem masses for them which would have drawn the cream of French cinema.

The country's large Muslim population has also been taking measures to limit the spread, with the French Muslim Council urging the faithful to limit funerals to just five people.

French funeral group AdVitam has offered to provide “free video transmission of funeral ceremonies to all families” unable to attend.

But even this cannot make up for the thwarted grieving process, experts said.

“I don't deny at all that the measures are well-founded, nor do I deny their urgency, but it is not without human consequences,” said Christian de Cacqueray, the head of France's Catholic Funeral Services.

“The trauma of certain families for whom the event will be botched will be terrible,” he added.

“For a family member or friend not being able to accompany the deceased to the end can have a lasting shock,” Marie-Frederique Bacque, a professor of psychopathology at the University of Strasbourg and author of several studies on mourning, told AFP.

The best solution is to come up with replacement rituals, she said.

“Lighting a candle is the simplest and most evocative symbol, thinking of the person you loved, putting up photos or flowers. It is the best thing to do while waiting to go to the grave later.”

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Reader Question: Can I get a third Covid booster shot in France?

As France launches its autumn vaccine campaign, almost half of those eligible for the second booster jab in France have already received it. This has left some wondering whether they could qualify for a third booster, using the new dual-strain vaccines.

Reader Question: Can I get a third Covid booster shot in France?

Question: I’m in my 70s and I had my second booster back in the summer but now I see that the new dual-strain vaccines are available – should I be getting an extra booster with the new type of vaccine?

French health authorities launched the autumn booster campaign on October 3rd includes newly authorised dual-strain vaccines – such as the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.1, the Moderna vaccine adapted to BA.1, and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.4/5 – which are designed to combat the Omicron variant.

It will be followed by the seasonal flu vaccination campaign in mid October.

READ MORE: When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

In France, about 6.3 million people have received a second booster dose, “or 41 percent of the eligible population,” said the Directorate General of Health (DGS) to Ouest France.

Currently only those in high risk groups are eligible for a second booster shot, including pregnant women, the elderly those with medical conditions or carers – find the full list here.

As almost half of the eligible population have already received a fourth vaccine, many are wondering whether they will be eligible for a fifth (or third booster) in order to access the new dual-strain vaccine.  

According to Virginie, a representative from HAS – France’s health authority – the organisation “no longer thinks in terms of doses for high-risk people and immunocompromised patients.”

Specifically, the HAS recommends that a new injection be given – and if possible one of the dual-strain vaccines – “regardless of the number of injections received up to now”.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster in France?

However, French health authorities specified that the additional booster should “respect the minimum recommended time between two doses.”

“This depends based on your profile – for people aged 80 and over, residents of nursing homes or long-term care units (USLD) and those who are immunocompromised, the wait-time is three months between jabs. For the others, the delay is set at six months.”

For those who have already been infected by Covid-19, the HAS recommends that if you are eligible for a second (or third booster) that the additional dose “is still recommended, with a minimum delay of three months after infection.”