'It's become a necessity': Coronavirus sparks surge in unusual funeral service

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

Gold Coast resident Alan Oberstein is one of very few business owners in Australia who has seen more custom come his way following the coronavirus outbreak as cases continue to soar across the country.

And while he may have seen a surge in new customers amid the pandemic, it certainly hasn’t made his job any easier.

Mr Oberstein, originally from South Africa, provides a live-streaming service, but unlike most people in the business, he offers his services solely for families when friends and relatives cannot make a funeral.

“When you’re dealing with a funeral it’s very different. It’s not a happy occasion like a wedding, you’re faced with people in their most raw state,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

The former television news cameraman said a string of recent enquiries into his services have coincided with the coronavirus outbreak that has almost brought international travel to a standstill.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced unprecedented travel restrictions urging all Australians not to travel abroad.

On Thursday, he went further and banned all non-residents from flying into Australia.

The number of funerals being livestreamed amid the coronavirus crisis has surged. Source: Supplied

Mr Oberstein said within 24 hours of the announcement, he has seen a huge influx in requests for his services.

“It’s become a necessity now rather than a luxury,” he said.

Days earlier Mr Morrison said anyone arriving from overseas into Australia would need to go into self-isolation for 14 days regardless if they are showing symptoms or not.

The air travel restrictions implemented by some countries or simply the repercussions of flying to a high-risk country has meant people are now missing funerals of loved ones.

For someone to attend a funeral in Australia from overseas, they would need to fly in at least 14 days prior to the funeral to undergo self-isolation.

Mr Oberstein has been a cameraman for over thirty years. Source: Supplied

Discussing the spike in requests with a local celebrant, he was told family being unable to attend was “becoming a huge problem”.

As public gathering restrictions continue to be tightened by the government, some within the industry fear funerals may soon only be accessible for close family.

“It’s really serious now,” Mr Oberstein noted, also revealing his company associates in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne have also seen a huge response since the outbreak.

On Wednesday (local time), the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention advised the public to live-stream funerals. The gathering limit in the US is currently 10.

‘Heavy’ decision for overseas son

At a recent funeral where Mr Oberstein’s company, Live Streaming Funerals, was hired, he said the deceased’s son was unable to return to Queensland from Europe due to the repercussions it could have for his high-profile job.

The advice in the US is now to live-stream funerals. Source: Supplied

“When it’s your own dad’s funeral and you’ve chosen not to attend it based on health issues and this virus it’s quite a heavy thing,” Mr Oberstein said.

Now some people aren’t even left with that devastating choice.

For Mr Oberstein’s customers, his services provide a way around the restrictions which are causing not only economic but emotional stress for many.

And while it may seem intrusive inviting a complete stranger into an intimate setting, Mr Oberstein says he and his staff are discretely placed to reduce any disruption to the service.

He revealed many attendees embrace the camera’s presence and some even use the live stream as a chance to send messages to those watching on via their screens.

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