Coronavirus deaths put pressure on morgues and crematoria

Backlogs at crematoria are building up in coronavirus hotspots, with some families facing a wait of several weeks before funerals can take place and pressure mounting on mortuary space. With pressure on the funeral services sector set to increase over the next two weeks as the death toll from Covid-19 reaches a peak, dozens of emergency mortuaries across the UK are starting to take delivery of bodies for storage until cremations or burials can take place. A facility at a warehouse on the Hillington industrial estate in Glasgow will be in use by Monday, and a morgue on the site of the former RAF Cottishall near Norwich will be operational in the next fewdays. People may have to wait up to four weeks [for a funeral], or use a crematorium in another area.” Some cemeteries were considering digging graves in unused spaces, she said. But some faith groups – notably Muslims and Jews – choose burial, creating additional pressure in areas where there are concentrations of those religions. A paper on pandemic planning, published last month by the University of Huddersfield, warned that death and bereavement services were likely to be overwhelmed. Based on research carried out last year, the paper listed among key challenges: delays in issuing death certificates; lack of equipment such as coffins, body bags and cremator ovens; a shortage of body storage space iffuneral parlours, hospitals and mortuaries reach capacity; and a lack of cemetery space. Last week, it emerged that a mass grave had been dug in New York, which was being used for the burial of people with no known next of kin or whose families could not afford a funeral. Julia Meaton, one of the paper’s authors, said mass graves in the UK were unlikely if temporary mortuaries were used to slow the pace of funerals to a manageable rate. There is no national approach, no national strategy.” The Deceased Management Advisory Group, an umbrella organisation for the death and bereavement services sector, is liaising with the government and local resilience forums, set up under the Civil Contingencies Act of 2004, which include emergency services, local authorities, the NHS, environment agency and others. This helps kill viruses that may be on the hands.  Cover your mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue when coughing and/or sneezing. In case you develop fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your healthcare provider.  Avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus. Many are putting in place measures to increase the number of cremations each day but it’s safe to say that in harder-hit parts of the country the backlogs will continue for several more weeks.” Additional pressure on mortuary space is coming from families seeking to delay funerals until restrictions on gatherings are relaxed. We are now starting to need our temporary mortuary facilities.” The council had extended crematoria operating hours and was preparing burial sites “at greater pace”, she said.