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Continuing funeral attendance restrictions criticised

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A FUNERAL director and a grieving Islander have hit out at the continuing restrictions on how many people can attend funerals.

Paul Battrick, managing director of Pitcher & Le Quesne Funeral Directors (28941428)

Marguerite Chapman attended the funeral of her husband, David, at St Saviour’s Church on Thursday but Covid-19 restrictions meant only 39 other people were able to attend the service.

The government has defended the safety-first approach, with deputy medical officer of health Dr Ivan Muscat saying that attendees at funerals were typically older and therefore more liable to contract coronavirus and become seriously ill.

Mr Chapman died on 14 July, aged 72, after a lengthy illness, and his family were initially led to believe that the Island would soon move to Level 1 of the exit from lockdown, meaning the 40-person limit would be raised.

But last week it was announced that Level 2 measures would remain in place into August, with indications that the transition to Level 1 may occur towards the end of next week – too late for Mrs Chapman.

‘We’ve got such a big family who all want to say goodbye properly. My sister died last year and there must have been 260 to 280 who came to her funeral,’ she said. ‘Two of my sons have contacted the Health Minister [Richard Renouf], and the St Saviour Constable [Sadie Le Sueur-Rennard] approached him in the States, but we didn’t get a response.’

Paul Battrick, managing director of Pitcher & Le Quesne, said Mrs Chapman had been in tears as she tried to decide which of her husband’s family and friends would be able to attend the service.

Mr Battrick said that a constructive meeting had been held with the government in late May regarding the use of larger venues for services, which would enable two-metre distancing to be observed, but that there had been little communication with funeral directors since then.

‘We’ve been left with lots of people asking us questions which we can’t answer because the government won’t communicate,’ he said. ‘It’s an emotional time, and this is making it much more stressful for families.

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‘Funeral services needed to be treated fairly. You’ve got people gathering in pubs and restaurants, and planes coming in with 100 passengers [seated together] for an hour. A funeral service only takes 25 minutes,’ he added.

Dr Muscat said that the last thing he wanted to see was older Islanders becoming ill after attending a funeral and creating a situation where another funeral would become necessary.

A government spokesperson said that the familiarity and common interest of people at gatherings such as funerals meant an increased likelihood of close physical proximity and a higher risk of transmitting Covid-19.

‘When customers sit in separate groups, at different tables in a pub or restaurant, the time spent mixing with others is significantly reduced and so is the transmission risk,’ the spokesperson added.

‘We understand that coronavirus and the protective measures in place are having an impact on emotional events that are hugely important to people. We are continually reviewing the guidance to allow as much activity as possible, but we must protect Islanders’ health, and that remains our priority.’

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