Mortuaries run out of space as COVID-19 bodies pile up

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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.

National Funeral Practitioners Association of SA President Muzi Hlengwa says the situation at funeral parlours is saddening.

“It is very different. It is something that you have never seen before. As I speak to you now, I am busy trying to ensure that coffin suppliers re-open earlier than they are supposed to. We have run out of coffins, we have run out of space at the mortuary. We are even requesting that those who can afford or are able to must try and get extra mortuary facilities, even if it is containers, temporary containers so that we have additional space. We run out of space, some funerals have to be postponed because we don’t have space.”

He says employees in the industry now have to work additional hours. “We normally have cremations during the day but now we have cremations even at night… We normally remove bodies from the hospital mortuary but now we are no longer doing that. We remove bodies from wards because there is no space.”

Hlengwa has pleaded with South Africans to take the necessary precautions in order to reduce the number of cases in the country.

“We appeal to people to take extra caution on this virus which is killing a number of our people. As I speak to you now, tomorrow we have a funeral of an undertaker who died of COVID-19. Two died yesterday, it is scenes we have never seen before. This morning we had the news that one of the employees of an undertaker well known in KZN has passed on.”

Hlengwa paints a horrific picture of what is currently happening at funeral parlours: