Funeral homes under pressure as COVID -19 deaths surge in S. Africa

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JOHANNESBURG, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- As COVID-19 deaths keep surging particularly in the Nelson Mandela Bay, funeral parlours said they were battling to keep up with the demand.

Odwa Duru, Chairperson of the National Funeral Practitioners of South Africa said fatalities were increasing.

"This second wave has hit us so badly. Numbers have been increasing dramatically," he told Xinhua on his way to a local hospital to collect nine bodies.

Duru who runs his own funeral parlour in Port Elizabeth said the highest number of burial he conducted in one day during the second wave surge stood at 47,"People are just dying, we don't understand this."

Port Elizabeth city is part of the Nelson Mandela Bay in Eastern Cape which has recorded about 8,000 deaths, more than any other provinces. The new variant detected in October was discovered in the Bay.

He said a funeral parlour should have lowering devices, a fleet of cars and a fridge with a capacity to "accommodate all bodies" to meet the rising demand.

"I bought a fridge with a capacity of 50 which is just for COVID-19 bodies. We don't mix COVID-19 bodies with others," he said.

He said the pressure with more bodies started in June.

"At my parlour, I was conducting funerals every day for the first time in June. The highest number of funerals or burials I had in one day was 33 mostly due to COVID-19. The following day it was 17," he said, "This was new to us."

Before the pandemic, the highest number of funerals he held in one day was 15 on weekends. He said funerals were rare during the week before the virus hit.

Duru said service providers were overwhelmed.

"When we go to hospitals to get bodies, other bodies are in fridges and not in trays or drawers as it is usually the case," Duru said, "Some funeral parlours wait for three days before they come to collect bodies from hospital as they don't have enough capacity."

He believed bodies at mortuaries should be handled with care to avoid the spread of the virus.

"When you handle a COVID-19 body, we have to use PPEs from head to toe, wear masks. We wash the body and cover it with a three layer plastic. The coffin itself must have a two layer plastic and we seal it," he said.

In 12 years of running a funeral parlour, Duru said this was new and shocking.

"I've never seen anything like this. People died in numbers due to HIV/AIDS but this is something else. People are dying," he added.

As of Wednesday, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Africa is 1,149,591 with a death toll of 31,368. Enditem

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