Epsom | Installed on an Epsom lawn, in the south of England, a white marquee accommodates dozens of bodies: this temporary morgue must relieve hospitals overwhelmed by the current wave of deaths from the new coronavirus.
The United Kingdom is bearing the brunt of the effects of a variant considered to be more contagious of Covid-19, which has led to a surge in contaminations and an increase in mortality, peaking Friday at 1,325 deaths recorded in 24 hours – never before seen since the start of the crisis.
This worsening exerts considerable pressure on hospitals: their intensive care units but also their mortuaries. And by ricochet on the funeral sector.
Due to a lack of places, the temporary Epsom morgue, in the county of Surrey, in the south-west suburb of London, accommodates 170 bodies, more than half of which are dead from Covid-19, according to the local council.
But if the 1,400 temporary places available were not enough in the coming weeks, the county would find itself in “real difficulty”, warned a spokesperson for the Local Resilience Forum in Surrey, created to coordinate the response of local authorities to the pandemic. .
When this mortuary opened in a rehabilitation center in March, 700 bodies passed through in the space of 12 weeks. By way of comparison, “since December 21, after only two and a half weeks, 300 bodies have passed” through this temporary morgue, the spokesperson said.
In London, health officials estimate that in some places up to one in 20 people currently have the novel coronavirus – well above the already very high national average of one in 50 people.
Preparations have started to install a new temporary mortuary near the Breakspear crematorium in north-west London to “supplement existing capacity,” a local authority spokesperson told AFP.
This installation has not yet been put into operation. The use of other temporary morgues, installed at the start of the pandemic, were not yet necessary during this second wave, he added.
For now, “London morgues are facing and cooperating to relieve localized pressures, and funerals continue to be held across the capital,” the spokesperson said.
Deborah Smith, spokesperson for an association of funeral directors, the National Funeral Directors Association, told AFP that discussions were underway across the UK on the use of temporary morgues.
Her industry faces three challenges, she explained: the peak of deaths from Covid-19, death rates which are usually higher in winter and the likelihood of employees falling ill.
“The numbers are higher, the feeling of the unknown too”, explained Mme Smith. “We don’t know how long the numbers will keep going up, before they go down again.”
Siraj Qazi, director of the Ghousia Funeral Service, a morgue serving the Muslim community in Luton, 20 miles north of London, has seen a “massive influx” over the past two weeks.
“We do funerals every day and the deaths that we are currently dealing with are mainly related to Covid,” said Mr Qazi. Levels similar to those seen during the peak of the first wave in March and April, when his business found itself almost overwhelmed.
The United Kingdom is currently the country in Europe most bereaved by the pandemic with nearly 82,000 dead, and the health service is preparing for its “worst weeks of the pandemic”, warned the chief medical officer of England , Chris Whitty.