There has been a significant relaxation in the rules surrounding all types of public gatherings since the middle of the summer. The latest guidance the UK government issued about coronavirus and funerals was published towards the end of August. Firstly, it is important to note that this guidance covers all types of commemorative events, not just funerals. So, if you are planning a memorial service, a wake or a celebration of life event, then these rules will apply just as equally as they would if you are organising a burial or a cremation. What are you allowed to do?
To begin with, international travel is still restricted to and from certain countries. Your attendees will still need to self-isolate if they’re coming from certain parts of the world and attending a funeral is no excuse not to go through this process. Organising a live stream of the service may well be more practical if international travel is involved.
Attendees from the UK don’t have to worry about automatic self-isolation. However, if they are instructed to self-isolate by a medical professional, then they must do so. Anyone who has symptoms of Covid-19, even if they’re mild, will also be unable to attend in person.
The government recommends that face coverings are worn in crowded areas, worth knowing as the numbers of mourners who can attend are no longer restricted at funerals. There is no clear legal definition of what a crowded area is, however. To avoid confusion and a potential outbreak, it will often be best to ask all non-exempt mourners to wear a face mask. In addition, the government recommends that as much ventilation as possible is provided.
Arrange for windows to be opened in the funeral venue wherever possible. Even so, the government recommends limiting close contact. Again, this is recommended guidance not something that is stipulated in law so you’ll have to make your own judgement about what feels right for you and other attendees. People who are clinically vulnerable should continue to follow the specific guidance they have been given.
Government guidance also states that certain rites and religious rituals may need to be adapted if they involve close contact with the body of the deceased. Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is recommended, for example, because it is thought that viral infection of coronavirus may occur from close contact with the body tissues of a dead person.
Although collecting all of the contact details of funeral attendees is not necessary by law any longer, this is considered to be a good practice in case someone were to get ill after the event. There are some minor differences between the rules in England compared to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That said, there are broadly the same regulations in place at the moment across the whole of the UK.
Nevertheless, it is worth checking for local variations. For example, there are no particular restrictions on gatherings before and after funerals in Northern Ireland in public spaces. However, a maximum of 15 people from no more than four households can attend a funeral at a private residence in the region.