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'Lives will be lost' to coronavirus if crowds continue to attend funerals, warns Northern Ireland doctor


Dr Tom Black

Dr Tom Black

Dr Tom Black

Crowds gathering at funerals and wakes are the single biggest threat currently facing Northern Ireland in the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been warned.

A leading doctor has said lives will be lost unless action is taken to address the situation from spiralling further out of control.

Dr Tom Black made the grim assessment after a whistleblower spoke out for a second time to reveal grieving families are still ignoring official guidance which recommends against holding wakes at home.

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The undertaker also said more than 200 mourners attended a funeral where he was working at the weekend.

The whistleblower, who first spoke out about his concerns last month, said: "We thought that by bringing this to the attention of the public and to the politicians that something would change, but we're still having full wakes and no social distancing.

"We feel like our concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

"We feel like the politicians have just left us to manage this, yet we're telling families that they shouldn't bring bodies home for wakes but they aren't listening, they're saying that they don't care. They might say that the house is going to be private and then extended family turns up and then neighbours and before you know it, the house is full," he added.

"We bring the body back to the house and we're asking people inside to stand back so we can get through and the garden is full of people chatting and smoking and people are actually blowing smoke in our faces as we walk by.

"It's happening on a daily basis - of the five deaths we're dealing with today, four of the families are insisting on having a wake at home. We really feel like the Health Minister and all the other ministers have forgotten about us.

"We need them to come up with legislation that is going to stop this from happening.

"We're worried about our own health, we're worried about bringing it home to our families and we're also worried about the health of the public.

"It's got to the point where you're asking yourself if you should just shut up and get on with it, or if you should be a chicken and refuse to do your job and then lose your income and not be able to support your family."

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

The undertaker added: "Families are just saying they don't have Covid-19 and their loved one didn't have Covid-19 and they're going ahead as normal.

"Basically, the guidelines aren't enough, we need legislation to be put in place."

Dr Black, chair of the British Medical Association's Council in Northern Ireland, said it is essential that the public begins to adhere to the regulations relating to wakes and funerals to stop preventable deaths from Covid-19.

"I have said repeatedly that wakes and funerals attended by crowds of people are an example of what shouldn't be happening right now," he said.

"There is a certain amount of complacency from the public now despite the fact that if we're going to have an outbreak, it is most likely going to come from a funeral.

"It strikes me that funerals and wakes are the biggest risk at the moment.

"It's quite clear that if we had 200 people working in a factory and they weren't following social distancing, we would be very quick to condemn that, but we don't want to impact on anyone's grief by condemning this behaviour.

"All it takes is one person at a wake or a funeral who has the virus to infect 60 others, who will go on to infect thousands and there is no doubt from those figures that there will be deaths. Then we will be looking retrospectively at what we could have done, when the solution is very simple."

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said breaches of funeral guidelines are not a matter for the Health Minister.

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