Undertakers are reporting either flouting or naivety of new rules surrounding funerals among small, introspective religious groups, particularly among the African and African-Caribbean community in the UK.
The current government guidelines say that funeral directors and faith leaders are advised to restrict the number of mourners who attend so that a safe distance of at least two metres can be maintained between individuals, with most places limiting the number of people to ten.
Only members of the deceased person's household or close family members should attend and any individual displaying symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend.
The advice also states that since there is a small but real risk of transmission from the body of a deceased person, mourners are strongly advised not to take part in any rituals or practices that bring them into close contact with the body of a person who has died from or with symptoms of COVID-19. Practices that involve close personal contact with the deceased should only be carried out using the correct personal protective equipment.
Rev Alan Green, Chair of Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum told Premier he and other local faith leaders had noticed this not being applied in his community.
Rev Green said the local undertakers "are having real difficulty in explaining to some religious groups that they cannot have their standard, very long service and that they cannot bring everyone they wish to that service. It's a real problem when it's not just the bereaved family but it is also a minister who is insisting that this must continue - and that really has to change."
There can be no touching of the coffin nor an open coffin.
This is a cultural situation. My husband is a clergyman & has been told not to hold funeral services in the church building, because of likelihood of this happening. But for our largely African-Caribbean community, vast funerals are the norm. How do you stop people turning up?— Maths Teacher (@MathsTeacherKYP) April 3, 2020
This has also been a problem in New York, with ultra-orthodox Jewish communities still going ahead with funerals last weekend. New York's mayor Andrew Cuomo has now introduced a fine for anyone dismissing the health guidelines. Muslim funerals in Wolverhampton also took place last weekend with an estimated 80-100 people.
My Nan spent years making sure she had enough saved for a funeral, since she came over from Jamaica. Now, there’s no church service, no memorial service. Just a burial limited to 10 people— Petite Powerhouse. (@petitetweeter_) April 5, 2020
It is extremely hard losing family, knowing you can’t say goodbye in the way they deserved
Rev Green added that the problem may be that these church groups may not watch the latest news on the same channels and are occupied with day-to-day care: "It is very hard to stay on top of all the information that is going around. Many of those small faiths are quite inward-looking. They are about care of their membership and they're not particularly interested in what is happening in the wider faith community."
African-Caribbean funerals often have large numbers of people, are something people save up for and are a celebration of their life with singing.
Rev Green said: "This is the balance that has to be had - it is protecting the living whilst respecting the death."