Funeral parlour owners say they are under immense pressure and are battling to cope with the high number of burials they have to perform daily due to deaths from COVID-19.
They say bodies are piling up and at times they are forced to wait at the cemeteries for graves to be dug. The pandemic has drastically transformed the death-care industry with staff also fearing contracting the virus.
Owner of the Black Phoenix Funerals, George Dhlodlo says, “We are inundated, it’s crazy. Before COVID-19 we did funerals on Saturday and Sunday mostly, but now we are doing funerals every day and when you get to the cemetery, not only it’s Blackwood and Black Phoenix or any other funeral parlour, but all funeral parlours, we all are at the cemetery every day.”
Dhlodlo says, “So it’s not only us who are inundated, every other funeral parlour is there. The cemeteries are inundated, sometimes we get there and graves haven’t been dug, the TLB is still working and sometimes we get there and there’s not enough graves, so everyone is inundated, it’s crazy.”
Dhlodlo says since the infection numbers began to increase, bodies have been piling up on a daily basis.
He says, “In the fridge facility, bodies are being stored there and they are all in body bags. So all our bodies that we bring in, because they are being treated as COVID-19 are all in body bags. That is a confirmed COVID-19 case and that’s why you will see it has been put in 2 body bags and then it’s been cling wrapped as well. So from the hospital when we pick up the body, it had to be put in a coffin immediately so it was put in the coffin in front of the hospital and it is stored as it is.”
However, with the high number of bodies coming in and out of his mortuary, as well as stringent new government regulations, bodies are now moving in and out on a daily basis.
“We are doing funerals every day now, prior we would do funerals on weekends only but now we are doing funerals every day. So this morning we got funerals, tomorrow we got funerals, on Friday we got funerals, on Saturday we got funerals. So we are doing funerals back to back so as they go out someone comes in so we are really under pressure, we are under pressure,” says Dhlodlo.
While all staff – including body cleaners, pallbearers and drivers are supplied with Personal Protective equipment, they still fear contracting the deadly virus.
Tshepo Maluleke from Blackwood funerals in Alexandra says that despite his fears, he takes the necessary precautions and continues with his daily duties.
Maluleke says, “For my protection I would actually say I am scared. But now with the equipment that we have we follow all the procedures and stuff and we have all the proper PPE’s so we covered in terms of that but with the families and stuff they never sure you know. But in terms of safety what we do is that we always have a sanitiser at home so before I get in I sanitise my body and even my clothes and stuff then before I could even talk to them and stuff I take a bath and you know ya.”
The Johannesburg Inner-city Funeral Directors Association says COVID-19 has drastically changed the death-care industry in the country overnight.
Chairperson Nkosi Nare says, “COVID-19 has changed the face of the death care industry. We are operating under duress, we are enduring much distress. Funerals have increased and we are now burying on a daily basis. Initially, we would plan a funeral for 7 days helping people to make their contributions and choice of funeral that they would want to do for their dearly departed. But now that has been stolen by this COVID-19. Because we are now doing funerals almost on a daily basis and some of those air light aspects of a funeral have been eliminated by COVID-19.”
As COVID-19 deaths are expected to continue to increase, one of the biggest funeral parlours in the country AVBOB has begun converting shipping containers into mobile mortuaries in anticipation for a spike.