Mourners in Greater Sydney grieving the loss of loved ones have been assured they can leave home during lockdown for compassionate reasons to mark a death anniversary or pay their respects at a grave-site.
An online petition about accessibility at the Rookwood Cemetery has gained about 10,000 signatures and the site posted about changes to its services on Wednesday.
NSW Health has confirmed that under the current orders, cemeteries are not required to close.
In a statement, it said a visit to a grave-site for an anniversary is permitted on compassionate grounds and members of the same household are allowed to gather outdoors.
“Attending a funeral or memorial service is a reasonable excuse to leave home,” a NSW Health spokesperson said.
Ten people can attend a service in Greater Sydney under the current health orders for NSW.
But the Australian Funeral Directors Association’s NSW President Nick Maurer said he was aware of 60 attendees allegedly hoping to attend a funeral at Rookwood Cemetery before the number was reduced to ten.
“The funeral director worked with the police in order to have ten people attend the funeral and the other 50 people were dispersed,” Mr Maurer said.
He said he does not believe any cemeteries have shut during the lockdown to his knowledge.
“They are allowed to be open for compassionate reasons, allowing family members to attend and visit grave-sites,” he said.
But Mr Maurer said there was a distinction between mourners attending a funeral service compared to paying tribute at a grave stone.
Rookwood General Cemetery’s latest online advice on Wednesday stated a maximum of 10 people can attend a funeral or memorial service.
It added that cremation and burial services will continue to be offered daily but one of its entrances was closed until further notice.
“I believe the NSW police had attended and blocked off an entrance to Rookwood Cemetery as there are several entrances,” Mr Maurer confirmed.
He said this enabled better management of visitors at the location in western Sydney.
The New South Wales AFDA said its member firms will provide the highest levels of safety for families, funeral staff and cemetery staff in this challenging time.
“We will continue to work with cemeteries across the board to ensure that all funerals are compliant with current NSW health regulations,” Mr Maurer.
Rookwood also said that police will be patrolling the cemetery and may ask about a person’s reasons for being there.
NSW Police said that entrance and traffic management is a matter for the cemetery and on-site security.
“NSW Police officers are continuing to conduct proactive patrols across Greater Sydney to ensure compliance of the current Public Health Order,” a spokesperson said.
“Additionally officers from Auburn Police Area Command will continue to make regular patrols of Rookwood Cemetery, and assist staff to ensure compliance of the current Public Health Orders.”