Crowd of 1,000 let in to watch snooker but ministers STILL won’t lift the limit of 30 at funerals

Ministers say they will allow 1,000 fans into a theatre to watch a snooker final – but are stubbornly refusing to raise the 30-person cap on funerals.

To the fury of campaigners and MPs, the Government last night rebuffed calls to review the funeral limit – at the same time as Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he wanted a full crowd at the world snooker championship final at the Crucible venue in Sheffield.

Ministers hinted they may relax social distancing restrictions so grieving relatives can physically comfort each other. But no change is likely until May 17 at the earliest, and Downing Street is refusing to re-examine the cap of 30 for funerals in England. 

Mr Dowden said he hoped a full crowd will watch the Crucible final beginning on May 2.

The move follows a ‘successful’ pilot scheme which has seen the venue operate at one-third capacity this week, with fans tested on entry. Capacity will increase to 50 per cent immediately, with almost 500 fans allowed in, rising to 75 per cent – about 735 fans – for the quarter and semi-finals next week.

To the fury of campaigners and MPs, the Government last night rebuffed calls to review the funeral limit – at the same time as Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said he wanted a full crowd at the world snooker championship final at the Crucible venue in Sheffield

Full capacity would then be allowed for the final. Fans do not have to socially distance.

Ministers are piloting other mass events, including allowing 6,000 revellers to attend Liverpool’s Circus nightclub over two nights next week. There will be 4,000 at next month’s Brit Awards, and they won’t need to wear masks or be socially distanced.

As a new study – the biggest examination of ‘real-world’ UK vaccination data – found both the Pfizer and Oxford jabs slashed infections and transmission of the virus, campaigners, MPs and charities demanded that ministers look again at the funeral restrictions and the cap on numbers.

The Daily Mail has campaigned for the cap to be eased and yesterday revealed that as many as 80,000 families could be forced to grieve under the restrictions over the next two months.

Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP who serves as Sir Keir Starmer’s parliamentary private secretary and is a prominent campaigner on funerals, said it was ‘completely insensitive’ to allow snooker fans to gather but not mourners.

She said if someone at the ‘saddest time in their life can’t have a little group of people around them, and yet they could go and see those people if they went to watch a game of snooker – to me, that is completely insensitive’.

‘If they are prepared to make those kinds of decisions around sporting activities – I’m not saying that’s wrong – you must have parity. And for me, somebody who is grieving at a funeral is far more important than a sporting activity.’

Mrs Harris, who recently lost her father as well as other family and friends, said she found it hard not being able to see the bereaved.

‘I would want to see some kind of bubble that you could actually have the person who is bereaved and people around them to go and comfort them.

‘It’s a very lonely and isolating time and that’s when we need people. It’s just awful and I found that really difficult.’ Senior Tory MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the Government was ‘rapidly getting a reputation for being both irreligious and also inconsistent’.

He added: ‘It’s good news for snooker, but why not churches and actually why not now restaurants? This is beginning to look a bit inconsistent, if not a touch irreligious.’

Conservative MP Sir John Hayes, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for funerals and bereavement, said: ‘Clearly everyone wants to get this right but the funeral industry and all that are associated with the sector are well used to the disciplines associated with funerals.

‘I’m confident that the professionals in the sector could work with the Government to make sure that a relaxation of the numbers was done in a way which is safe.’

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was robustly challenged over the funeral rules yesterday.

LBC presenter Nick Ferrari asked the Cabinet minister why people could sit alongside others in a pub garden, snooker game or aeroplane but the 30-person cap on mourners remained in place. Mr Kwarteng said: ‘We’re always looking at the rules… but I think it was very important that we are consistent and that we hit the dates as we said.

‘The one thing you would blame me for is if we relaxed rules and then for whatever reason the coronavirus spiked and we had to, God forbid, go into lockdown. That would be a disaster and you would rightly be lambasting me.’

Downing Street said it was important to strike a balance between the ‘needs of the bereaved and the need to minimise the spread of a deadly virus’.

Funeral director David Barrington, 52, who runs a business with his wife Claire in Liverpool, spoke of how it ‘tugs at the heartstrings’ to be unable to help families in the usual way.

Mr Barrington said that in 27 years in the sector, the past 12 months had been the ‘toughest’, adding: ‘Now that we see places opening up and relaxing… it seems more sensible to start to do the same here.

‘It would definitely be a kinder way of holding funerals because as we move forward… all of a sudden funerals start to look a bit sparse. You’ve got people sitting outside pubs and very soon you’re going to have people going inside restaurants.’