Mourners should keep two metres apart at funerals and only members of the same household and close family should attend, according to new guidance issued by the Government’s health agency.
Public Health England (PHE) said on Tuesday that funerals must be conducted in a manner consistent with social distancing principles to avoid the further spread of Covid-19.
It also said that relatives should avoid “close contact” with anyone who has died with symptoms of the virus.
Gatherings of more than two people and all public events including weddings have been banned since March 23 in a bid to contain coronavirus, but funerals were exempt.
But now faith leaders are being advised to restrict the number of attendees so they can maintain a safe distance from one another.
Anyone with symptoms of Covid-19 should not attend funerals, PHE said in advice published on the Government’s website.
It added there was a “small but real risk” of the transmission of the virus from the body of the deceased.
PHE said mourners are strongly advised against any “rituals or practices that bring them into close contact with the body of a person who has died from or with symptoms of coronavirus Covid-19″.
It is common in Catholic countries to hold wakes with the deceased’s body in the room the day before burial or cremation.
Other cultures take part in the washing of their late relatives.
PHE said any close contact with the dead should only be carried out using proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
Professor Paul Cosford CB, PHE’s emeritus medical director,said: “Losing a loved one is a sad and distressing experience and funerals are important and personal.
“During this very difficult time for the country, our aim is to protect the most vulnerable from the spread of coronavirus.”
Mohamed Omer, board member of Muslim burial charity Gardens Of Peace, said the organisation welcomed the guidance as necessary to protect staff working at burial sites.
“If circumstances dictate then we should contemplate, as hard as it may seem, no attendees at funeral time,” he said.
“It is also welcoming to note that we can perform our ritual wash as long as we observe the necessary precautions of wearing the right PPE and follow the process included in this guideline.
“It is hoped that this there will be uniformity now in the whole system so that there is no confusion and conflicting reports on the risk of handling a Covid-19 deceased person.”
Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “It is a central issue for the Jewish community that we honour and respect our departed loved ones while protecting the living.
“Our community introduced new strictures on handling the deceased in order to do this immediately after the start of the Covid-19 outbreak.”
She added the organisation was grateful to the Government for its efforts to “preserve lives and community life”.
The guidance also contains information for the safety of coroners, pathologists and funeral directors and also for GPs managing deaths in the community or residential care settings.