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Members of the public have been asked to stay away from this year’s Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph due to the coronavirus pandemic in a marked departure from tradition.

It will be the first time in the Cenotaph’s 100-year history that the traditional 11am service will be closed off to members of the public, who are instead being told to mark the event from home.

A limited number of people – including armed forces veterans, members of the royal family, and international leaders – will be permitted to attend the service, which typically sees thousands of people line streets through Whitehall to pay their respects in memory of those who fought for the country.

A statement from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said the service “is expected to go ahead with representatives of the royal family, the Government and the armed forces, and a small representation from the Commonwealth, other countries and territories, all laying wreaths at the Cenotaph”.

The event will be made “Covid-secure” by minimising attendance and ensuring strict social distancing measures are in place, the statement added.

The large annual march past the memorial will not take place, but the small contingent of veterans, numbering no more than double figures, will still be invited to march past the monument, a Government source said.

Thursday’s announcement about plans for the event came as Londoners were told the capital would be moved up to the Tier 2 level of coronavirus restrictions, further limiting social gatherings amid concerns about the current rate of transmission.

Remembrance Sunday across the UK

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “This Remembrance Sunday has a particular significance as it marks 100 years since the Cenotaph was installed.

“Whilst we will mark this occasion properly, it is with a heavy heart that I must ask people not to attend the ceremony at the Cenotaph this year in order to keep veterans and the public safe.

“We will ensure our plans for the day are a fitting tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and that our veterans are at the heart of the service – with the nation able to watch safely from home.”

Last year, the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cambridge, Duke of Sussex, Duke of York, Earl of Wessex, Princess Royal and Duke of Kent all laid wreaths at the base of the Cenotaph, while the Queen looked on from a balcony of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, flanked by the Duchess of Cambridge and Duchess of Cornwall.

They were among an estimated 10,000 people in attendance that day.

The Government said this year local Remembrance events should also comply with social distancing rules and restrictions on the numbers of people permitted to meet outside, where applicable.

It said all gatherings involving more than six people “will need to be organised by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution or a public body”, and will require a risk assessment to be carried out to reduce the potential spread of Covid-19.

In Tier 3 regions, which have the most severe restrictions, Government regulations state those attending the Remembrance Sunday gathering should be limited to people there as part of their work, those providing voluntary services in connection with the event, members of the armed forces, veterans of the armed forces or their representatives or carers, and spectators who participate in the gathering alone or as a member of a qualifying group.

Bob Gamble, assistant director for commemorative events for the Royal British Legion, said: “The decision not to proceed with the annual march past the Cenotaph has been taken by the Government based on expert advice to protect the health and wellbeing of all those who would have been travelling to and participating in the event.

“Whilst it is deeply disappointing that the march will not be taking place this year, we can all still play a part in ensuring we mark the occasion appropriately and pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of our armed forces on Remembrance Sunday.

“We are encouraging people across the country to participate in their own personal moment of remembrance, whether that be watching the service on television or pausing for the two-minute silence.”

Mel Waters, chief executive of military charity Help for Heroes, added: “Remembrance is an important time to remember the fallen, but also to remind the nation that many veterans are living with illness or injury and continue to need support.

“We are sorry to hear that the annual Cenotaph event is not going ahead, but the safety of those participating must be the priority.”

“In spite of the challenges facing so many this year, we hope families across the UK will still take time to recognise all those who have sacrificed so much in service of their country.”