Tens of thousands of families will suffer under cruel funeral rules unless ministers act urgently.
Funeral directors expect at least another 80,000 cremations and burials to fall under Covid curbs between now and June 21 – the earliest date for easing under Boris Johnson’s roadmap.
Charities last night backed calls for a review of the 30-person limit on mourners.
They warned the continued restrictions would mean ‘pain, distress and extended grief’.
Campaigners also want family members to be allowed to hold a grieving relative’s hand.
Funeral directors expect at least another 80,000 cremations and burials to fall under Covid curbs. (Stock image)
The Mail has called for an urgent review of the cap on mourners as well as for lateral flow tests to reduce the need for social distancing and for the lifting of all limits on open-air services.
The plight of grieving families was highlighted at the weekend by the sight of the Queen sitting alone at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
The National Association of Funeral Directors told the Mail a further 80,000 families in England were ‘likely to go through the trauma of losing a loved one and arranging a funeral service’ over the next two months.
It demanded that ministers should take another look at the rules.
‘The Government has sought to balance keeping vulnerable people safe with the needs of the bereaved, throughout the pandemic,’ said chief executive Jon Levett.
‘However, now that the simple comfort of holding hands in care homes is permitted – and given the success of the vaccine programme and wide availability of testing – we would like the Government to reassess the restrictions at funerals, to minimise the ongoing suffering of bereaved people.’
The association analysed the five-year average number of deaths in England from the weeks ending April 24 to June 19 to calculate the figure.
Those who lose a loved one in England in the next two months will be forced to cap the number of mourners attending a funeral at 30.
Yet there is no absolute limit on worshippers attending normal services, meaning a church could hold many more people at a socially-distanced Sunday service than a funeral.
MPs have criticised the discrepancy, with senior Tories suggesting that the rules ‘make no sense’.
Charities last night backed calls for a review of the 30-person limit on mourners. Pictured: Mourners gather at a funeral in Thaxted, Essex
A crematorium official (left) moves to halt a hug at the funeral of Alan Wright (right) amid the coronavirus pandemic
Wakes and commemorative events meanwhile, such as the scattering of ashes or stone setting ceremonies, are limited to even fewer – 15 people – although this is set to be lifted to 30 from May 17.
Sir John Hayes, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for funerals and bereavement, last night heaped fresh pressure on the Government to relax the rules. The Tory MP said: ‘The projections suggest many more families are going to be affected by the current regime.
‘Of course it is right that we move ahead cautiously and in discussion with the sector who know best about how to manage things safely. But it does seem to me that if other parts of the United Kingdom are moving ahead swiftly that the Government needs to look at England too.’
The clamour for a change in the rules in England intensified earlier this week when Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that 50 mourners would be able to attend funerals and wakes north of the border from Monday – up from the current limit of 20.
Dr Shelley Gilbert, founder of the charity Grief Encounter, estimated that 750,000 Britons have been ‘deeply impacted’ by grief following the death of a loved one in the past year.
She said: ‘That’s three quarters of a million people who have not been able to host a funeral for someone close in the way they, or the deceased, would have wanted. If we continue to impose restrictions on mourners, we expect another 80,000 families to experience even more pain, distress and extended grief.
‘Not being able to hold a funeral halts the grieving process for many, as funerals can give a sense of acceptance and finality.
Some communities do not have the resource to share funerals online, they may not be able to gather in a large communal space – this means many families will be robbed of the chance to say their final goodbye, or draw from the strength of their extended network in a way we are so used to doing.’
The Good Grief Trust also called last night for a relaxation of the funeral restrictions so bereaved families can be given greater support.
A Government spokesman said: ‘We know that losing a loved one has been incredibly difficult during the pandemic. That’s why throughout we have made it an absolutely priority to ensure funerals can continue to happen.
‘The virus has spread at different rates across the country, and each devolved nation has its own unique set of circumstances.
All restrictions on funerals and commemorative events have sought to balance the needs of the bereaved with the need to minimise the spread.’
Cruel rules made our heartbreak more painful: Your devastating stories that lay bare the cost of funeral limits – while pub gardens and even church services are packed
By Andrew Levy for The Daily Mail
BANNED FROM HUGGING MUM AT DAD’S FUNERAL
A grieving son who was ordered to stop comforting his mother at his father’s funeral yesterday called for an end to the ‘inhumane’ rules.
Craig Bicknell and his brother Paul moved their chairs to sit beside their mother Barbara Wright, 71, as she mourned the loss of husband Alan, 78.
Upsetting footage showed an official at the crematorium in Milton Keynes hurrying over to tell them to separate.
Mr Bicknell, 43, told the Mail the rules were unacceptable when his father died six months ago and were even more so now, when millions have been vaccinated against Covid and lockdown rules were being relaxed.
Pictured: A crematorium official moves to halt a hug at Alan Wright’s funeral, as his son moved his chair to comfort his brokenhearted mother, in Milton Keynes
‘Things have moved on a lot since then,’ he said. ‘You’ve got Covid testing in place, a vaccine has come out. It doesn’t make any sense to me.
‘You can go to a beer garden with marquee and drink alcohol which makes you more relaxed and you don’t have to wear a mask. So why have they not looked at funerals?
‘They are ruining them for so many people. They are stopping people from saying goodbye.’
Pictured: The cover of the order of service for Alan Wright’s funeral. His son was stopped by a crematorium official from consoling his mother during the service
Mr Bicknell, who is a contract director, said that when his father, a former RAF corporal who later worked as a caretaker, died from a heart attack, mourners were allowed to travel together in cars to the crematorium.
‘You comfort each other in the cars. Then you get out of the car and are told to stop straight away,’ he said. ‘You can’t touch each other or be near each other. It’s not humane.’
Arguing that rules should be applied equally to all social situations, he added: ‘The science is not being applied at all correctly. There’s no common sense.’
The rigid enforcement at his father’s funeral happened despite the fact the brothers had been living in a social bubble with their mother after her devastating loss.
The footage at the service in October showed the suited official running forward when he saw the brothers move either side of their mother.
He could be heard shouting: ‘Sorry, sorry, you have to put the chairs back I’m afraid. You can’t move the chairs, you were told.’ Alan Wright was Craig and Paul Bicknell’s stepfather.
He married their mother Barbara when the boys were young children.
LIMITS CAUSED A FAMILY RIFT
Kim Coveney lost her mother, Yvonne Walker, to coronavirus in January – and said that having to limit mourners to 30 at Medway Crematorium in Chatham, Kent, caused the family added heartbreak at ‘an already traumatic time’.
Mrs Coveney, a 53-year-old paramedic, said: ‘The crematorium was big enough to accommodate more than 30 people quite safely.
‘My mother was only 70 and the oldest of six, with three children. We had to limit mourners to her brothers and sisters but not their partners, even though they’ve all been on the scene for decades.
Kim Coveney (right) lost her mother, Yvonne Walker (left), to coronavirus in January – and said that having to limit mourners to 30 at Medway Crematorium in Chatham, Kent, caused the family added heartbreak at ‘an already traumatic time’
‘It caused a bit of a rift within the family and added to the stress of what was already an awful period.
‘I looked at the pictures of the (Chelsea) football fans crammed together protesting over the proposed Super League on the news and wondered whether they will all be fined. I suspect not, yet with Covid rates now low, funerals are still restricted like this.
‘Where facilities are large enough to safely accommodate more than 30 mourners, the rules should be relaxed. I still don’t feel like I have had closure.’
Grandmother of eight Mrs Walker, who lived with husband Colin, 74, in Chatham, was taken in to Medway Hospital – where she spent 27 years as a domestic assistant – in the early hours of Christmas Day.
She died on January 2 after the family had been allowed on to the ward to say their goodbyes.
Mrs Coveney, a mother of five, said: ‘She was very popular at the hospital and lots of her old friends and colleagues were also denied the opportunity of attending her funeral.’
She said they were planning an interment at the family grave in Margate – but rules restrict them to just 24 people at the graveside. ‘It seems unfair as it’s an outdoor environment’, Mrs Coveney said.
‘But we’re hoping that by the time we hold the interment in July, more people will be allowed. ‘It has been tough for everybody through the pandemic – many grieving people have had to make do with attending remotely through platforms such as Zoom.
‘But I don’t agree with those – they leave mourners feeling disconnected. Attending funerals is part of the grieving process and I think it must be difficult to find closure if you cannot attend.
‘Now the virus is in retreat, more mourners should be allowed to go to funerals where they are able to attend safely.’
NO CONSOLATION OVER LOST SON
Sarah Morgan lost her popular 19-year-old son Jack in March, and told the Mail that many of his friends were unable to attend due to the 30-person limit.
Miss Morgan, from Kingsbridge in south Devon, said the funeral, held on Tuesday at St Thomas of Canterbury, Dodbrooke, ‘looked so empty and the restrictions meant nobody could console us’.
A dedicated trainspotter with an ‘encyclopaedic’ knowledge of rolling stock, as well as a lover of animals who helped out a local sanctuary, Jack had special needs and died after a seizure.
‘We have a very strong Christian faith and like everybody else we were restricted to just 30 with ‘no mingling’,’ his mother said yesterday. ‘The church we attend can accommodate up to 70 people and would have been packed as so many people would have wanted to say farewell to Jack.
‘We then buried Jack in the churchyard and everybody had to just drift away, it was so sad. No wake, just a large empty hole not knowing what to do for the rest of the day.
‘We got home around 2pm and we had all afternoon to fill. It was awful and although people have been emailing and messaging me it is not the same.’
Sarah Morgan lost her popular 19-year-old son Jack (left) in March, and told the Mail that many of his friends were unable to attend his funeral due to the restrictions despite Covid rates in the area being at rock bottom
Of the dismal afternoon after the funeral, Miss Morgan said: ‘In the end my younger son spent the afternoon engrossed in his computer and I did some of the household chores and then read my book in the garden, anything to try and occupy those long hours which should have been filled with my sons bickering, the TV playing and general noise that families make.
‘So please keep on with your campaign so that other families can have the chance to grieve properly.’
The 51-year-old, who had been Jack’s carer, added: ‘The majority of the mourners would have had their first jab. I can understand the need to be cautious, but the Government should use more common sense.’
She spoke favourably of the imminent relaxation of the rules in Scotland, saying the government there seemed to realise larger funerals were ‘not so scary’.
She added: ‘So many people who wanted to come up to me and Jack’s brother, but we all had to be physically distanced at the front of the church, so we could hardly even see who was in attendance.’
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