What's Happening With Funerals In The UK During Coronavirus?
This post is updated regularly to reflect the latest news and science around the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, in the UK.
As of March 24, the total number of cases in the UK has reached over 6,600, with 335 deaths. Sadly, funeral arrangements may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
The UK government implemented a nationwide lockdown on March 23, which includes a “ban on public gatherings of more than two people,” per BBC News. The public has also been instructed to avoid all but necessary travel. With these outlines in mind, what does that mean for funeral services?
Has The UK Government Banned Funeral Services?
Not outright. Although weddings, baptisms and other religious ceremonies have been banned, funerals have not. However, only services that are “attended by immediate family” are allowed, the government guidelines stipulate. Funeral homes will also remain open.
The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) has stated that they will “be clarifying a number of questions with the government” in the coming days, “including the maximum number of people that can attend a funeral.” They also advise that if you are arranging a funeral, that you should “do it over the phone wherever possible, restrict attendees to immediate close family only and respect social distancing guidelines.”
Will You Have To Postpone Arrangements & How Will That Work?
Until there is official government guidance, it seems to depend on where the service is being held.
The Church of England’s new advice states: “Where family relatives or friends are unable to attend given the restrictions on numbering, churches will be happy to explore ways to allow others to join the service, either through platforms such as Skype, or recording the service to send at a later date to anyone unable to attend.
“Where no audio link can be achieved, an order of service could be sent either by email or post. Apart from the bride and groom, the physical distance should be observed as far as possible.
“No additional church personnel will attend the service, for example organists, vergers or sound system operator etc.”
The NAFD has also suggested recording, using “streaming where possible to include other family members and perhaps planning a celebration of the person’s life in the months to come,” as they write on their site.
Why Are Cremations & Memorial Services Being Suggested Rather Than Burials?
This stems from Wales' Health Minister Vaughan Gething, per BBC News, who recently suggested that there should be "a push towards cremation and memorial services in the months to come," during an assembly to the Conservative health committee.
"If we really are seeing a level of mortality that means that the normal process can't cope then we'd have to make changes," he explained. This refers to a worst case scenario which would involve the storage those who died from COVID-19. "The initial part could be about increasing storage of the deceased and powers for local authorities to acquire places to store bodies."
He continued: "Then we have to consider what that means in terms of whether it's burial or disposal and whether it's possible that single disposal may not be possible at the top end of the reasonable worst case scenario."
What’s The Risk Of COVID-19 Spreading At A Funeral Service?
Despite funerals being limited to immediate family only, it can still be classed as a relatively large gathering of sorts. So while the chance of spreading the virus to a large number of people is obviously minimised the smaller the group, there’s still a risk that guests may be carrying the virus without even realising it and will then pass it on to others in the funeral party.
The CDC has stated that "there is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of COVID-19." However, it also notes that "people should consider not touching the body of someone who has died of COVID-19."
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If you or someone you’ve been in close contact with appears to have shown or be showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, visit the NHS website in the UK to find out the next steps you should take or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.
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