The legal limit of 30 mourners at funerals, imposed as part of the Covid restrictions, will be removed on 17 May, five weeks earlier than planned, the government has confirmed.
Venues such as places of worship will instead be able to decide how many guests to allow at services based on their capacity, using social distancing rules.
However, the cap on the number of people at weddings, wakes and other “life events” – which currently stands at 15 under Step 2 of the roadmap – will only increase to 30.
The government had come under pressure to explain why only 30 mourners were allowed at funerals while thousands of people were being let into trials of mass events such as football matches, concerts and awards ceremonies.
Under the “roadmap to freedom” unveiled by Boris Johnson in February, the 30-person limit for funerals was due to remain in force until 21 June at the earliest. Meanwhile, from 17 May, indoor entertainment venues such as museums and cinemas would reopen, and indoor events would be permitted with 50 per cent capacity, up to a limit of 1,000 people.
Last month the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) urged the government to review the 30-mourner limit in England “for the sake of bereaved families”.
Terry Tennens, chief executive of SAIF, had warned: “The danger is that families will start postponing funerals and wait until 21 June or thereafter, when in theory the restrictions will be lifted.”
He said the rules should be changed to allow a “venue risk-assessment approach” similar to that already in place in Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland currently permits 50 mourners at funerals.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has now announced that “after careful consideration” the legal limit of 30 mourners in England will be removed as part of Step 3 of the roadmap.
A spokesperson highlighted the success of the vaccination campaign and said that cases of severe illness and hospital admissions were still “in line with modelling provided by scientific experts” since the easing of restrictions under Step 2 on 12 April.
More than 127,500 people have died in the UK within 28 days of a positive Covid test.
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: “The British people have made huge sacrifices throughout the pandemic to protect the NHS and save lives, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the deeply painful restrictions on the numbers attending funerals.
“Losing a loved one has been incredibly hard during the pandemic and I am pleased we are now in a position, thanks to everyone’s continued efforts and the rollout of the vaccine, to remove these limits and allow more friends and family to come together and pay their respects.”
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