The following guidance is taken from the government web site and can be found at: COVID-19: guidance for arranging or attending a funeral during the coronavirus pandemic – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
On 2 December 2020 the period of National Restrictions has changed to a system of local restriction tiers. Different tiers of restrictions apply in different parts of the country, find out what tier your area is in.
In each of these local restriction tiers, people are permitted to leave their homes to attend a funeral as well as other religious, belief-based, or commemorative events that are linked to a person’s death.
This guidance is of a general nature and should be treated as a guide. In the event of conflict between any applicable legislation (including the health and safety legislation) and this guidance, the applicable legislation shall prevail.
This guidance applies in England.
This advice is designed to assist members of the public who are attending or involved in organising a funeral in England during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It is for people of any faith, or none.
This guidance has been developed to ensure that:
- bereaved people are treated with sensitivity, dignity and respect
- funerals can continue to take place while minimising the risk of infection
Guidance for venue managers and those involved in professionally arranging a funeral is available through the Deceased Management Advisory Group website.
This guidance remains under review and may be updated in line with the changing situation.
In all tiers, funeral ceremonies must have no more than 30 people attending, whether indoors or outdoors. This number does not include funeral staff.
The actual number of people able to attend will depend on how many people can be safely accommodated within the premises with social distancing, and where the funeral venue manager has carried out a risk assessment and taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of COVID-19. In some cases, this may be fewer than 30 people.
In all tiers, other religious, belief-based or commemorative events that are linked to a person’s death, such as stone setting ceremonies, ash scattering or a wake, must have no more than 15 people attending. This limit applies both indoors and outdoors and does not include anyone working.
Crematoriums and burial grounds will be open to the public within all local restriction tiers.
What you need to know
This guidance aims to balance the needs of the bereaved to mourn, with the need to minimise the spread of COVID-19 infection. While recognising the importance of these rituals and gatherings, the actions detailed in this guidance are important in reducing the spread of infection, particularly to clinically vulnerable and clinically extremely vulnerable people who may be at risk of severe illness.
The risk of COVID-19 spread increases whenever households mix. A household is defined as those people who live together under the same roof and who share facilities. Any mourners who are not part of the same household or support bubble should follow social distancing guidelines.
For deaths that are suspected or confirmed as being due to COVID-19, household members of the deceased person may have already been exposed to COVID-19. However, you should take steps to minimise any new exposure, especially where people who are not part of the household, and those at risk of severe illness, may come into contact with the virus.
Social distancing and keeping safe
If you are attending a funeral or similar event, you should:
- stay at least 2 metres away from others outside your household or support bubble
- wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser
- avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- when coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue and throw away the tissue safely. If you do not have a tissue, use the crook of your elbow (not hands) to cough or sneeze into
- wear a face covering, as required by law when attending indoor places of worship, crematoria and burial ground chapels unless you are exempt for health, disability or other reasons. You should also wear a face covering in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing may be difficult and where you may come into contact with people you do not normally meet. There is additional guidance on the use of face coverings
- avoid singing, shouting, chanting and raising your voice because this may increase the risk of airborne transmission of the virus
If you are organising a funeral or similar event, you should:
- consider inviting close friends and family only, to reduce the risk of spreading infection
- ensure other mourners are aware if there is a clinically extremely vulnerable person attending. They should be respectful of the vulnerable person’s need to avoid close contact at any point
- try to facilitate remote participation, for example, via live-streaming
- ensure mourners avoid playing musical instruments that are blown. Some professional, socially-distanced vocal or instrumental contributions can take place, either indoors or outdoors, but outside wherever possible. Singing should be limited to a small, set group of no more than 6 people, staying at least 2 metres apart, and should not include audience participation. There is additional guidance on the performing arts. Consider using instrumental music or recordings as an alternative to live singing
- remind mourners that spoken addresses and responses during a ceremony should not be in a raised voice. Encourage the use of microphones or similar equipment to minimise natural voice volume
Who can attend a funeral?
Funeral ceremonies must have no more than 30 people attending, whether indoors or outdoors. This number does not include funeral staff.
The actual number of people able to attend will depend on how many people can be accommodated safely within the premises with social distancing, and where the organiser has carried out a risk assessment and taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of COVID-19. In some cases, this may be fewer than 30 people. Keeping overall numbers as low as possible will reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Limits for funeral ceremonies held as part of communal worship will be defined by the risk assessment of the venue. Guidance on places of worship is available.
People who are symptomatic should not attend
Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 (a new continuous cough, a high temperature or a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell), should not attend a funeral. You should immediately self-isolate, follow the stay at home guidance, and request a test online, or by contacting NHS 119 via telephone if you do not have internet access.
People who are required to self-isolate
If you have been instructed by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate because you have tested positive for COVID-19, or you are the close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you should not attend a funeral due to the risk you pose to others.
It is a legal offence for a person who is required to self-isolate to attend a funeral under any circumstance other than the funeral of a close family member (for example, a partner, parent, sibling or grandparent).
People with a legal duty to self-isolate are:
- anyone who is notified that they have tested positive for COVID-19. They must self-isolate (stay at home) for the period ending 10 days after they first developed symptoms, or if they did not have symptoms, 10 days after the date of the test
- anyone who is notified that another member of their household or support bubble has tested positive. They must stay at home for the period ending 14 days after that household or support bubble member’s symptoms began, or if they did not have symptoms, 14 days after the date of their test
- anyone who is instructed by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate because of close recent contact with a person outside their household or support bubble who has tested positive for COVID-19. They must stay at home for the period instructed by NHS Test and Trace (which will end 14 days after the point of most recent contact with the person who has tested positive)
Even if you are a close family member of the deceased, we strongly recommend that you attend remotely if possible. However, if after careful consideration of the risk, you choose to attend in person, it is essential that you take all of the following precautions:
- advise the funeral venue manager and other mourners in advance that you are in your self-isolation period. It is a legal requirement for a venue manager to complete a risk assessment and take all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of COVID-19
- take extra care to keep your distance and avoid contact with another mourner who may be clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable
- maintain a distance of at least 2 metres at all times between you and other mourners. Other mourners need to be aware of this prior to attending
practise strict hand and respiratory hygiene by:
- wearing a surgical-grade Type IIR face mask or higher grade, properly fitting, to minimise any risk of viral transmission from yourself to others. If a respirator mask is used (for example N95), this should be non-valved. Type IIR masks are widely available from pharmacies, supermarkets and online retailers. We advise you to provide your own face mask, but those organising the funeral may also want to ensure they have some in stock
- washing your hands more often than usual with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using a hand sanitiser
- avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- covering your coughs or sneezes
If you are legally required to self-isolate, you may only break self-isolation if attending the funeral of a close family member (for example, partner, parent, sibling or grandparent) and otherwise must continue to self-isolate unless there are other circumstances present that legally allow them not to.
Mourners who are clinically extremely vulnerable
If you are clinically extremely vulnerable you will have received a letter (a formal NHS notification) to inform you of this. You are advised to stay at home as much as possible. If you do choose to attend a funeral, you should inform those organising the funeral and it is important that you maintain strict social distancing and follow the guidance on protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable. You should practise rigorous hand and respiratory hygiene in addition to wearing a face covering, and should keep social interactions low.
You are advised to travel to the venue in a car by yourself, or with someone from your household or support bubble. You should avoid public transport.
Mourners coming from outside England
If you have travelled to England within the last 14 days from any country that is not exempt from the requirement to self-isolate, you are required to self-isolate for the first 14 days after you arrive. However, you can leave your place of self-isolation in limited circumstances, including on compassionate grounds. This includes attending a funeral of a household member, a close family member or a friend (if neither household member or close family member can attend the funeral).
You will still be required to abide by the national restrictions at all other times.
Travelling to and from a funeral
People in the same support bubble can stay overnight with each other as they count as one household. Hotels may also remain open to provide accommodation for anyone attending a funeral or other religious, belief-based or commemorative events linked to the death of a person but different households should remain socially distanced within the accommodation.
You should travel to the venue in a car by yourself or with people from your household or support bubble, especially if you are clinically vulnerable or extremely vulnerable. If this is not possible, follow the safer travel guidance. You are advised to:
keep to a small group of your household or support bubble
open windows for ventilation
- consider seating arrangements to maximise distance between people in the vehicle
- travel side by side or behind other people, rather than facing them, where seating arrangements allow
- face away from each other
- make sure the car is cleaned between journeys using standard cleaning products, particularly door handles and other areas that people may touch
- wear a face covering. You are required by law to wear a face covering on public transport, in taxis and private hire vehicles unless you are exempt for health, disability or other reasons. Passengers who are not exempt are legally required to wear a face covering when travelling in a funeral director’s vehicle. A face covering is also strongly recommended for drivers
Linked religious, belief-based or commemorative events
In this guidance, other religious, belief-based or commemorative events means events linked to a person’s death, other than the funeral. This event may take place before or following the funeral. Some examples include wakes, ash scattering and stone setting ceremonies.
Within all local restriction tiers, other religious, belief-based or commemorative events linked to a person’s death are still permitted. The maximum limit for these events is 15 people in a COVID-secure venue, where the venue manager has carried out a risk assessment and taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
If the event is taking place in a private dwelling, including private gardens, the relevant local restriction tier guidance on socialising within the home should be followed. In tiers 2 and 3, this means that only members of the household or support bubble can attend.
At the event, attendees should remain seated, with table service provided to support social distancing and to minimise any risk of infection. Individuals should not touch communal or shared objects, or handle items other than one’s own (for example avoid the use of shared cutlery, dishes or service sheets). Sharing of food should be avoided and other actions to reduce the risk of transmission should also be considered, for example, use of pre-wrapped food where not provided by the venue. Attendees should ensure that social distancing measures are observed at all times and guidance on the use of face coverings is also followed.
In tiers 1 and 2, places such as hospitality venues as well as community centres, places of worship, hotels, exhibition centres, burial grounds, cemeteries and crematoriums are permitted to remain open to hold linked events. See guidance on restaurants, pubs, bars and take away services for more details.
In tier 3, hospitality venues are not permitted to open to hold linked events. Venues like community centres, places of worship, burial grounds, cemeteries and crematoriums can remain open. Areas of hotels, exhibition centres, and conference centres that are not bars and restaurants, for example conference halls or meeting rooms, may also rent space for this purpose. Only light refreshments should be served at linked events within these venues (and cannot be provided by the venue itself in tier 3).
If you have been advised to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace you must not break your isolation to attend any linked religious, belief-based or commemorative events. This would be a legal offence and you may be fined.
You may wish to consider deferring a commemorative event, such as a wake or memorial service, until further social restrictions have been lifted.
Personal care of deceased people
You are advised not to take part in rituals or practices that bring you into close contact with the deceased. If your faith requires you to have close contact with the deceased, you need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) under the supervision of someone who is trained in the appropriate use of PPE. Detailed guidance on care of the deceased should be followed, regardless of the setting in which personal care of the deceased is provided.
If you are clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable you are strongly advised to avoid contact with the body of the deceased, even if you can wear PPE. This includes washing, preparing or dressing the body.
Experiencing grief or bereavement
Whenever the loss of a friend or loved one happens, it can be an extremely difficult and challenging time. This may be even more difficult if you are experiencing bereavement and grief during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You may struggle not just with the bereavement, but with the impact of social distancing measures and the fact that you may not be able to say goodbye in the way that you would have wanted.
After a bereavement, you may feel waves of intense emotions as you come to terms with the loss. These can include sadness, guilt, shock and anger. All are common and there is no right or wrong way to feel. Grief affects everyone in different ways, but the important thing is to grieve and to have the right support to do this.
Learn more about grief and support available through the NHS, Cruse Bereavement Care, which offers advice and support on dealing with bereavement and grief during the COVID-19 pandemic and AtaLoss.org, which provides signposting and services across the UK. If you are supporting a bereaved child or young person, the Childhood Bereavement Network has information and links to national and local organisations.
The Health Protection Regulations
This document is guidance.
The law is contained in the following Health Protection Regulations for England in 2020:
- The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020
- Coronavirus Restrictions (No. 2)
- Wearing of face coverings in a relevant place (amended)
- Coronavirus Restrictions on self-isolation
For the position of what is lawful, you should refer specifically to the relevant regulations above.