Coronavirus lockdown laws changed to allow people to visit graveyards in England

Reworded restrictions state that people can commit a crime by remaining outside 'without reasonable excuse' even if they left home for a permitted reason

Coronavirus has killed 69 NHS workers, government announces

Coronavirus lockdown laws have been changed to ensure people can visit graves and memorial gardens in England.

It follows harrowing reports of mourners finding graveyards closed and being prevented from attending funerals of close relatives.

An elderly man became impaled on a fence while attempting to visit his wife’s grave in Northern Ireland, an MP said.

Jeffrey Donaldson told BBC Radio Ulster he had received other “heartbreaking stories”, including mothers unable to visit their children’s graves.

The first version of the Health Protection Regulations, which give police powers to arrest or fine people for violating the lockdown, suggested burial grounds should close to the public “except for funerals or burials”.

But the law has been amended to specify that the order does “not apply to the grounds surrounding a crematorium, including any burial ground or garden of remembrance”.

The change, which came into force at 11am on Wednesday, makes visiting a burial ground to pay respects to a relative or friend a legal reason to leave home.

But the relaxation came as the wording of the law was altered to make clear that it restricts both reasons to leave home, and to stay outside.

It now reads: “During the emergency period, no person may leave or be outside of the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.”

An explanatory memorandum said the change was made "to put beyond doubt that a person commits an offence if they remain outside of the place where they are living without reasonable excuse, having left it for a permitted reason".

Police have so far handed out more than 3,000 fines for violations, amid concern that confusion over the law was causing officers to issue them incorrectly.

The public must risk prosecution in order to challenge a penalty if they believe it has been issued wrongly, by not paying it and going to court.

The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, urged councils to ensure graveyards remained open on Saturday.

Speaking of the death of 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, who died after contracting Covid-19, Mr Jenrick said the tragedy was compounded by the fact his family could not attend his funeral.

“That is not right and it shouldn’t have happened,” he added. “For clarity, funerals can go ahead with close family present.

“Social distancing measures must be respected, but families must have the opportunity to say a respectful goodbye to those that they love.”

Mr Jenrick asked councils to reopen any closed cemeteries and graveyards so people could visit and “seek solace”.

Other legal changes made to the Health Protection Regulations add outdoor swimming pools to the list of premises that must close, and make livestock markets and auctions exceptions.

Savings clubs and currency exchange or transfer businesses have been added to the list of those allowed to remain open.

The statutory instrument states that the regulations are a “response to the serious and imminent threat to public health” caused by coronavirus.

“The Secretary of State [Matt Hancock] considers that the restrictions and requirements imposed by these regulations are proportionate to what they seek to achieve, which is a public health response to that threat,” it adds.

“The Secretary of State is of the opinion that, by reason of urgency, it is necessary to make this instrument without a draft having been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

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