Clarified funeral attendance rules

Funeral attendance

Public Health England has moved to end the confusion over funeral attendance rules during the coronavirus pandemic with the publication of updated guidelines.

The guidelines, published on 19 April and updated on 15 May, make clear that there are no overall limits on the number of mourners that can attend a funeral. However, mourners must observe social distancing rules, and people showing symptoms of coronavirus and those in at-risk groups should not attend.

A spokesperson for Public Health England said: “Mourners should avoid any direct face-to-face or physical contact, such as hugging, unless they are part of the same household.”

The confusion emerged as councils across the country diverged in their interpretation and implementation of the original guidance that banned “all public gatherings of more than two people”. Although funerals were set out as an exemption to this ban, with only social distancing rules applicable, several authorities, including Liverpool and Manchester City Councils, capped attendance at ten mourners, regardless of the venue’s social distancing capacity. Other authorities, including York, Bradford, and Belfast City Councils, are only conducting unattended cremations and burials, with a total ban on mourners.

Responding to the updated guidance, some authorities, including Kirklees Council, Harrogate Council and Solihull Council, have already relaxed attendance limits, while Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster said she saw “no reason” why Belfast Council should not re-open its cemetery to mourners.

The Scottish Government updated its guidelines on 13 May, adding: “The Scottish Government acknowledges the large amount of work and significant effort cremation authorities and burial authorities, working with funeral directors, have already undertaken to continue to offer funeral services to the bereaved during the current pandemic”..

While the funeral profession welcomes the clarification, criticism remains, with former Welsh Assembly member and humanist celebrant, Lorraine Barrett, saying the UK Government should “look seriously” at enforcing unattended direct cremations and burials for “a few weeks”.

SAIF has produced a guide to remembering a loved one, advising families to write a letter to the person who has died, create an online tribute or a memorial in the garden, and plan to bring people together for a memorial once restrictions are eased.

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