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Coronavirus: Crowds of over 60 people are gathering in homes for wakes, claims 'terrified' NI undertaker


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Cemeteries in Northern Ireland have reopened. Picture: Presseye

Cemeteries in Northern Ireland have reopened. Picture: Presseye

Cemeteries in Northern Ireland have reopened. Picture: Presseye

Grieving families are flouting coronavirus rules by holding wakes in their homes that are being attended by crowds of people, a whistleblower has said.

An undertaker in Northern Ireland has spoken out to reveal groups of more than 60 people are gathering together in homes for wakes and funerals despite clear guidance banning this during the coronavirus pandemic.

And he said he is aware of cases where people have attended funerals even though they have been in contact with relatives caring for a person who has died from Covid-19.

"I'm terrified for myself, I'm terrified for my family," he said.

"If you saw the face of a person who has died from Covid-19, you would know it wasn't a pleasant death.

"You would see they'd gone through a hard time and you'd know how important it is to do everything to stop the spread of the virus."

The claims have been branded "deeply shocking and disturbing" by Health Minister Robin Swann.

I come home from work and strip down at the front door and get straight in the shower but I'm so worried Whistleblower

The whistleblower said: "Funeral directors are coming under so much pressure from families who are demanding that they want a wake for their loved one.

"We try to advise them of the dangers but they don't care, they want a wake and they won't take no for an answer.

"I've been in houses where there are more than 60 people inside and we're brushing up past people when we're bringing the body home.

"Even when you have families who aren't letting lots of people in the house at once, you have 50 or 60 people standing together outside, chatting, smoking, shaking hands and hugging.

"I've seen 60 people walking shoulder to shoulder behind a hearse.

"I come home from work and strip down at the front door and get straight in the shower but I'm so worried.

"I'm not sleeping at night because I'm so worried about what we're going to face the next day."

The undertaker said he is also concerned that the reopening of cemeteries may lead to even larger crowds of people attending funerals.

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General view of care-taking staff from Mid & East Antrim Council at the Ballee Cemetery in Ballymena this morning as the Northern Ireland Executive agreed to reopen cemeteries during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

General view of care-taking staff from Mid & East Antrim Council at the Ballee Cemetery in Ballymena this morning as the Northern Ireland Executive agreed to reopen cemeteries during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

General view of care-taking staff from Mid & East Antrim Council at the Ballee Cemetery in Ballymena this morning as the Northern Ireland Executive agreed to reopen cemeteries during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

"I think the temptation will be there for even more people to turn up," he said.

"The only thing I think they could do is maybe have funerals in the morning and then open the cemeteries in the afternoon.

"To be fair to funeral directors, they are coming under so much pressure from people and it's very hard to say no.

"We need the Executive to come out and be very clear about the rules and stress that it is unacceptable to have crowds of people at wakes and funerals."

It has prompted a senior doctor to warn that thousands of people could become infected with the deadly virus as a result.

Dr Tom Black

Dr Tom Black said crowds attending wakes and funerals could result in a fatal surge of cases unless the public adheres to social distancing measures.

"You only need to look at what happened in the Basque country where 60 people became infected with Covid-19 after a funeral and it spread through the community and created a hotspot," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"We need to be very careful, one person at a funeral can infect 60 people who can infect thousands, it will spread like wildfire.

"If social isolation breaks down, it will be much worse than the first wave has been, so we need to be very careful."

Dr Black, chair of the British Medical Association's Northern Ireland Council, continued: "This is not scaremongering.

"There's definitely the view among the public that we have passed the worst of this, but this is just the end of the beginning.

"We need to avoid complacency and make sure we don't have any outbreaks or all of our efforts so far will be for nothing."

You might think you're too young or too healthy to be struck down by the virus. You're wrong Robin Swann

According to government guidance, wakes should not be held, funeral services should not take place in family homes and no remains should be taken home to rest.

The funeral should be private, with a maximum of 10 mourners present and social distancing must be practised at all times, including travel to and from the funeral.

The guidance specifically states that there should be no mixing between mourners who are self-isolating and those who are not.

While funeral notices can still be placed in newspapers or using online services, funeral arrangements should not be advertised, it states.

Despite this, an increasing number of death notices include specific details about the funeral arrangements.

Mr Swann said: "These allegations are deeply shocking and disturbing.

"They graphically underline the dangers of complacency in the fightback against Covid-19.

"Let me set it out as bluntly as I can.

"If you flout the restrictions, you are putting yourself and your family and friends at risk."

He continued: "You might think you're too young or too healthy to be struck down by the virus. You're wrong.

"And even if you turn out to be one of the lucky ones and only have mild symptoms, you could pass it on to someone else with devastating consequences.

"The social distancing measures remain in place for very good reasons."

Belfast Telegraph