The social distancing measures put in place by the government to stop the spread of coronavirus also affect funerals.
It is a particularly sad part of the official guidance which means that only a very limited number of people will be allowed to attend the ceremony.
The government have now clarified their guidance after consulting with a number of faith leaders.
Professor Paul Cosford CB, Emeritus Medical Director, Public Health England, said: “Losing a loved one is a sad and distressing experience and funerals are important and personal. During this very difficult time for the country, our aim is to protect the most vulnerable from the spread of coronavirus.
“We are encouraging all mourners to practise social distancing at funerals for the time being. This sadly means limiting the number of mourners to immediate households and closest family members.”
Who can attend?
The government had already asked families to restrict attendees but today they have clarified the rules explaining that “only members of the deceased person’s household or close family members should attend funerals”.
This means that sadly the dead person’s best friends won’t be allowed to be there in person or more distant family.
However if the deceased has neither household or family members in attendance, then it is possible for a modest number of friends to attend.
No one who is showing symptoms of covid-19 should go, self-isolating, or at high risk of Covid-19 should go.
It may be possible to provide online broadcasting of the service so that mourners can watch the service without attending in person.
Are there other measures in place?
Those who do attend need to adhere to social distancing measures.
This means that the seats may need to be arranged with enough distance in between them.
Mourners should leave 2m in between as they process in and out of the venue and they should avoid shaking hands, hugging and many of the natural responses during such a sad occasion.
They should also make soap and water or hand sanitiser available.
Mourners should consider whether it is appropriate for family to act as pallbearers rather than professionals.
They should allow staff to open and close doors to avoid too many people touching handles that could be laced with the virus.
They should also avoid touching the coffin as they leave.
Contact individual crematoriums and services as they may have their own rules.
Can you hold a wake?
The lockdown has already closed pubs and restaurants meaning that mourners could not gather for a traditional wake.
And even a gathering in someone’s home is off limits because it could increase the spread of the virus.
Instead mourners may want to arrange a celebration of the person’s life after the restrictions are lifted.
What if the person died from covid-19?
The official guidance also warns that there is a “small but real risk” of transmitting covid-19 from the dead body so family should avoid touching their loved ones.
It says “mourners are strongly advised not to take part in any rituals or practices that bring them into close contact with the body of a person who has died from or with symptoms of COVID-19.”
It adds: “Practices that involve close personal contact with the deceased should only be carried out using the correct personal protective equipment (PPE).”
What do faith leaders say?
Mohamed Omer, board member of Gardens of Peace, said: “We welcome the new guidance from PHE and would like to reiterate that it is essential that we maintain social distancing at all times, including at funerals. We should also severely curtail the numbers who attend the funerals so as to ensure that staff working at burial sites and others are protected. If circumstances dictate then we should contemplate, as hard as it may seem, no attendees at funeral time.
“It is also welcoming to note that we can perform our ritual wash as long as we observe the necessary precautions of wearing the right PPE and follow the process included in this guideline. It is hoped that there will be uniformity now in the whole system so that there is no confusion and conflicting reports on the risk of handling a COVID-19 deceased person.”
Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “It is a central issue for the Jewish community that we honour and respect our departed loved ones while protecting the living. Our community introduced new strictures on handling the deceased in order to do this immediately after the start of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“This thorough and considerate guidance from government supports the Jewish community’s safeguarding actions to date, and we are grateful to the government for their continued efforts to preserve lives and community life.”