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Humanists UK welcomes updated guidance on funerals during the pandemic

Photo by Dylan Nolte on Unsplash

Two new items of national guidance have been issued in England on funerals during the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, guidance was published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government on the responsibilities of local authorities in relation to death management in the event that fatalities rise beyond what the normal systems can cope with. Today Public Health England has updated its guidance to support the safe management of funerals in the present situation. Humanists UK, which was consulted by the UK Government for both sets of guidance, has welcomed them, saying that they ‘strike the right balance between public safety and the human necessity to grieve’.

The guidance from Public Health England, aims to ‘ensure that bereaved people are treated with sensitivity, dignity and respect, while protecting individuals, communities and those in the funeral industry from the risk of infection.’

The guidance outlines where exceptions can be made to the current laws restricting movement to allow friends and families to say goodbye to a loved one by attending a funeral in person. It includes specific advice for those who are self-isolating or have been designated as extremely vulnerable.

The new advice includes the following provisions:

  • Councils should ensure at least some mourners can attend funeral services in person (although numbers should be restricted);
  • Councils should reopen cemeteries to allow bereaved people to visit the graves of loved ones;
  • Funeral services should enable those who are self-isolating or in an at-risk/vulnerable group to attend or otherwise pay their respects in a safe manner (e.g. by adhering to additional physical distancing measures or, in the case of vulnerable people, not attending the same ceremony as those in household isolation);
  • Venue managers may set caps on maximum numbers, depending on size of facility, in order to ensure physical distancing can be adhered to;
  • Mourners should be permitted to have a minister or celebrant of choice in attendance.

The Government is also encouraging live streaming and deferred celebrations or memorial services, to enable wider groups of mourners to participate, and has restated the importance of not delaying funerals. These measures have already been recommended by Humanists UK in their own guidance celebrants.

Humanists UK’s Head of Ceremonies Isabel Russo said: ‘At a time when coronavirus is disrupting every significant milestone in our lives: birth, marriage and death, humanist celebrants are facing unprecedented restrictions to their practice, but are nevertheless doing everything they can to re-imagine funeral practices in particular.

‘This includes safer face to face ceremonies but also involves using technology to facilitate realistic approaches for non-attended funerals. At their best, the latter don’t attempt to replace or recreate a traditional ceremony online, but have their own methodology, enabling grieving friends and relatives to connect to, remember, and celebrate their loved-one in an appropriate and meaningful way despite physical distance.

‘We will continue to work with bereaved families in whatever way they need to provide sensitive, meaningful funerals and memorials that adhere to these safety guidelines throughout this difficult period.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘The way that the UK Government has worked with and consulted a full range of civil society and funeral professionals in producing their guidance has been exemplary. Both these sets of guidance strike the right balance between the requirements of public safety and the freedom, right, and necessity for family and friends to pay their respects to a loved one with dignity and respect.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson at or phone 020 7324 3066 or 07855 380633

Read the new guidelines on funerals and death management during the pandemic

Read Humanists UK’s previous guidelines on funerals, covering live streaming and gestures to replace hugging.

Visit our Humanist Funeral Tribute Archive.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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