RESIDENTS have clashed after their town council took the unprecedented step to close the town cemetery to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

The cemetery in St Edburg’s churchyard in the centre of Bicester closed to the public on Friday and will only open for burials with limited access only.

The move is in line with the government’s strategy to slow the spread of Covid-19, but residents have argued about the decision.

Some have said the decision is disrespectful as they can no longer visit loved ones' graves, but others say visiting the cemetery is not a necessity and so its closure is reasonable.

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Jazz Shaban posted on the Bicester community Facebook page: "I don’t know who the idiot is in Bicester Town Council that made the decision to close the cemetery, but it’s a bad one!

"Many people get comfort from being able to go in and visit the graves of loved ones – especially at this time."

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She said the cemetery did not get overcrowded anyway, so there would be a low risk of the virus spreading.

She added: "I popped in to Sainsbury’s earlier. There were more people in the dairy isle than I’ve seen in the cemetery all week."

Lee Coombs agreed and criticised the council's decision.

He said: "Utterly ridiculous decision. I fully accept the need for social distancing but this is crazy. People will be getting far closer and in greater numbers in our supermarkets.

"I fully understand the importance of visiting our loved ones' resting places."

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Others, however, said closing the cemetery was the right thing to do as visiting graves was not an essential trip like buying food, and it would stop people congregating there.

Lynz Worth commented: "Whilst I appreciate it might be sad that you can’t visit the graves of your loved ones, if people don’t start paying attention to the partial lockdown they may well be joining those in the grave yard. Something I don’t think anyone’s loved one would want for them.

"It will be open again when it’s safe to do so, in the meantime, stay at home and do what you’re told."

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Elaina Earnshaw said: "I agree with it being shut, unfortunately it's something that has to happen to keep everybody safe.

"It's very upsetting times right now – I understand that – but people need to stay home, so this virus can go."

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The government issued advice to councils to close cemeteries and crematoria for everything other than funeral services.

It came after reports in other parts of the UK that people were using cemeteries as an alternative to parks to get around social distancing measures.

However Bicester resident Trudy Brock argued people should understand that everyone has different needs.

She said: "I think this needs to be put into context.

"For some, a quiet moment with their deceased loved one might feel essential. For others, a bottle of wine from the supermarket might feel essential.

"We shouldn’t be here to judge, but we would all expect 2m rule, hand washing to be standard. Shops and other places are FAR busier than a graveyard. Let’s have some compassion in this awful time."

Bicester Town Council has also closed Garth Park due to government lockdown orders but it is trying to support the community by offering cash grants of £500 to community groups and organisations that are helping those in need during the pandemic.

It stood by its decision to close Bicester Cemetery and says the grounds will be maintained during lockdown.

Mayor Jason Slaymaker said: “We are deeply saddened to have to take this action, but adhering to the Government’s advice about social distancing is essential as the country battles against coronavirus.

“We know people will be concerned they are unable to visit and tend their loved ones’ graves, but you can be rest assured our outdoor team will continue to work to maintain the cemetery and as soon as we are able, it will be opened to the public again.”