FUNERAL services have been scrapped - and mourners banned - at York Crematorium because of the coronavirus crisis.

Even funeral services that have already been booked at the crematorium in Bishopthorpe will become ‘direct cremations,’ with family members unable to attend to say farewell to loved ones.

City of York Council said it had had to make the “very difficult and sad” decision to cease all funeral services with immediate effect from today, although cremations will continue as planned.

The daughter of a York pensioner whose funeral service was due there next week said she was “devastated” by the decision. Joy Carter said she was at the bedside of her father, Robert Henry Darbyshire, 92, of Osbaldwick, when he passed away because of Alzheimer’s and gave up paid employment to care for him.

“His passing at times was painful and for me not to say goodbye at peace, comfort and reassurance is just devastating,” she said.

A council spokeswoman said a number of precautions were already in place to reduce risks to members of the public and staff, but the decision was taken in the light of new stricter and clearer government guidance relating to social distancing at funerals.

Sharon Stolz, director of public health, said it had been one of the most difficult decisions the council had had to make. “At a time when family and friends are the most important part of our lives, we know this is going to be really difficult for many people who have lost their loved ones,” she said.

“We’re living in unprecedented times and as such, we have to ensure we’re doing everything we can to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus and sadly, that includes attending funeral services.

“With the number of infections and deaths rising, and ahead of the predicted peak period of infection, we must put these new measures in place now to protect our most vulnerable.

“This is why we’ve consulted at length with funeral directors in York and have collectively determined that it’s sadly in the best interests of everyone if we cease all funeral services.”

She said the council was exploring all other possibilities such as holding services of remembrance at a later date when Government restrictions have been lifted, and would provide a free short video within the chapel for services that had been booked.

“We are aware that many families have already made plans and we wanted to ensure they have to make alternative arrangements balanced with taking swift action to save lives.”

Funeral director Chris Fielder, of J G Fielder & Son, said the decision was “disappointing”, although he had been aware it was a possibility for some time and understood why it had been made.

“We are in the process of contacting families affected by the change and discussing the options available to them, which include the use of our service chapel for up to five mourners, or holding a small service with the hearse and minister or celebrant outside the family home,” he said.

“We encourage families to consider holding memorial services at a later date, and our services are on offer to assist with this.”