Coronavirus: Funerals must ensure social distancing, new advice says

Faith leaders are being urged to restrict the number of mourners attending so they can maintain a safe distance from one another.

Aubrey Allegretti, political reporter

Political reporter @breeallegretti

Tuesday 31 March 2020 23:19, UK

…PHE said funerals are ‘important and personal’ times

Mourners must keep two metres apart at funerals and only members of the same household or close family should attend, new guidance says.

Public Health England also told people to avoid “close contact” with the body of anyone who has died with symptoms of COVID-19 as there is a “real risk” of transmission.

The advice was released as the total number of people with the virus who have died in the UK climbed to 1,808.

People already observing the government’s “stay home” message have been urged to carry on social distancing to avoid catching or spreading coronavirus.

Gatherings of more than two people and all public events including weddings have been banned since 23 March, but funerals were exempt.

Now faith leaders are being urged to restrict the number of mourners attending so they can maintain a safe distance from one another.

Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend funerals, PHE said, warning there is a “small but real risk” of the virus being transmitted from a dead body to another human.

It also warned mourners against “rituals or practices that bring them into close contact with the body of a person who has died from or with symptoms of coronavirus COVID-19”.

It is common in Catholic countries to hold wakes with the deceased’s body in the room the day before burial or cremation.

…Mourners will be told to stay two metres apart.

Other cultures take part in the washing of their late relatives.

PHE said any close contact with the dead should only be carried out using proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

Professor Paul Cosford, PHE’s medical director, said losing a loved one is “sad and distressing” and funerals are “important and personal” but the organisation’s aim is to “protect the most vulnerable from the spread of coronavirus”.

Mohamed Omer, board member of Muslim burial charity Gardens Of Peace, welcomed the guidance as necessary to protect staff working at burial sites.

“If circumstances dictate then we should contemplate, as hard as it may seem, no attendees at funeral time,” he said.

“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.

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.”

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