Funerals should continue “as normally as possible” for now, as officials develop contingency plans for the dead during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Representative bodies from the funeral, crematoria and burial sector met officials at the Cabinet Office on Tuesday, where they highlighted the shortage of protective clothing and requested support as the situation develops.
Following the meeting, the attendees said bereaved friends and families should consider whether social distancing measures mean webcasting memorial services could become an option.
Among those involved were representatives from the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management and Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities.
Members of the Cremation Society and the Association of Private Cemeteries and Crematoria were also present.
A joint statement said: “The key outcome is that funerals should continue, as normally as possible, for now – but take into account all of the guidelines issued by government for minimising the risk of transmission.
“This includes the need to protect at-risk groups, to avoid large gatherings of people, for good hand hygiene and the avoidance of unnecessary physical contact.
“This is not only for the benefit of those attending funerals, it also supports the urgent need to protect funeral home, crematorium and cemetery employees, who need to remain healthy and able to support bereaved families at this critical time.”
It said families should assess each funeral individually and consider whether the social distancing measures might mean small numbers of people, organising a service at a later date or alternatives such as webcasting.
The statement added: “This is a fast-evolving situation and guidance may well need to change again in the near future.”
Meanwhile, emergency powers due to be announced by the Government are set to simplify the process of arranging a funeral.
Measures will include expanding the number of people who can register a death and allowing certain documents to be sent electronically.
The NAFD welcomed the Government’s coronavirus Bill, emphasising the importance of “ensuring we can preserve the dignity” of the deceased during the outbreak.
“From the headlines announced, it looks as though there will be a number of provisions in the Bill that would support funeral directors and families during the peak of the outbreak,” the association said.
“For example, funeral directors being able to assist with death registration, which may be particularly helpful if families are self-isolating – and the ability to transfer registration documents digitally.
“In fact we’d like to see this also apply to cremation forms too.
“We would also welcome greater powers given to the Chief Coroner so that there can be a consistent approach across all coroner jurisdictions.”
The NAFD added: “We believe that a combination of this kind of support from the government, with a partnership approach at a local level through the resilience forums we spoke about earlier, will support the funeral profession in being able to properly care for people who die and their loved ones at a very difficult time.”