People of all faiths, and those of none, are now required to follow new guidance and restrictions to reduce the risk of infection from COVID-19. This is most apparent when we cannot visit loved ones in hospital, be with them at the time of death and hold funerals as we would wish them to be. We all share this pain.
In these circumstances local faith, health, council, funeral, mortuary and other partners are working together to ensure that families are supported to the best of our abilities if they experience a COVID-19 related death.
This advice is based on important government and Public Health England (PHE) guidance which everyone needs to follow to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, to limit the impact on the NHS, and to keep people safe from harm.
In creating the guidance, the government has said that religious and other funeral wishes of the person who has died can still be followed where they can occur safely. This means that:
- Members of faith communities, as everyone else, can choose between burial and cremation.
- Where there is a religious expectation of a short period between death and burial this will be honoured, as far as practically possible.
- That particular religious rites, such as body washing, can be carried out by trained staff with appropriate personal protection equipment.
There is also common acceptance that the numbers of people allowed to attend funerals will have to be restricted, and social distancing must be followed at all times. Faith groups will also support families to both mark the death, and celebrate the life, of a loved one fully and appropriately once the current restrictions have been relaxed or removed.
These current restrictions will add to the pain and grief families and friends will experience at the death of a loved one, and faith groups will work alongside all partners to support grieving families.
Central to all of this is a recognition that we are all in this together, that we are committed to supporting one another – whatever our faith or belief – and that we will work to maintain the sensitive balance between honouring the dead and protecting the living.
Rev Alan Green, Chair, on behalf of Tower Hamlets Inter Faith Forum