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France coronavirus: Pictures reveal workings of Paris mortuary

The inner workings of a mortuary in Paris have been laid bare in a series of confronting photographs as France‘s coronavirus case and death tolls steadily climb amid fears of a third wave of disease. 

Photographer Joel Sagat was granted access to the mortuary of Beaujon Hospital in Paris where medics were preparing two bodies for burial.

The images show medical staff shaving and grooming the bodies, before dressing them and placing them in coffins ready for burial or cremation amid a pandemic that has seen the city’s death-toll soar.

France’s case and death tolls have been steadily climbing since a second national lockdown ended on December 15, though last week Emmanuel Macron refused to plunge the country into a third shutdown.

Instead, border restrictions were tightened amid fears of importing new and more-infectious variants of the virus, despite the objections of doctors who said the measures were merely ‘delaying the inevitable’.

France, like all EU countries, is also being plagued by a slow jabs roll-out that has been hindered by bureaucracy and in-fighting in Brussels, prolonging the country’s Covid agony.

Workers at the mortuary in Beaujon Hospital in Paris prepare a body for burial by blow-drying and combing the man’s hair, having already dressed him for viewing in his casket

A medical worker shaves the beard of a body at the Beaujon Hospital in Paris. While many believe that beards keep growing after death, in fact stubble remains the same length but the skin around it dries and retracts, meaning bodies are often shaved to give them the same appearance the person had in life

A medical worker shaves the beard of a body at the Beaujon Hospital in Paris. While many believe that beards keep growing after death, in fact stubble remains the same length but the skin around it dries and retracts, meaning bodies are often shaved to give them the same appearance the person had in life

Mortuary workers dress two bodies for burial, including putting socks on one man before he is dressed in a shirt, jacket and trousers ready to be placed into his coffin

Mortuary workers dress two bodies for burial, including putting socks on one man before he is dressed in a shirt, jacket and trousers ready to be placed into his coffin

A range of makeup products sits inside drawers at the Beaujon Hospital in Paris, which workers will use to give the bodies an appearance similar to the one they had in life

A range of makeup products sits inside drawers at the Beaujon Hospital in Paris, which workers will use to give the bodies an appearance similar to the one they had in life

Mortuary workers apply absorbent pads to the bodies of people at a mortuary in Paris, to prevent fluids from leaking on to their clothes were decomposition has already begun

Mortuary workers apply absorbent pads to the bodies of people at a mortuary in Paris, to prevent fluids from leaking on to their clothes were decomposition has already begun

Medical workers wrap the arms of one of the bodies in clingfilm, to prevent any fluids leaking from the skin and on to the clothes as the flesh decomposes

Medical workers wrap the arms of one of the bodies in clingfilm, to prevent any fluids leaking from the skin and on to the clothes as the flesh decomposes

A medical worker prepares a suture which will be used to stitch the jaw of the bodies together, to stop the lower jaw from falling open. This, in addition to cotton wool padding and wires, will also allow them to set the features of the dead

A medical worker prepares a suture which will be used to stitch the jaw of the bodies together, to stop the lower jaw from falling open. This, in addition to cotton wool padding and wires, will also allow them to set the features of the dead

A medical worker (left) stitches the jaws of a recently deceased person together while (right) another worker dresses a body in a shirt before adding a suit jacket and trousers

A medical worker (left) stitches the jaws of a recently deceased person together while (right) another worker dresses a body in a shirt before adding a suit jacket and trousers

A fully-prepared body, including cups placed on the eyes to stop them deflating, is moved from the preparation room and into a mortuary fridge where it will be placed into a coffin

A fully-prepared body, including cups placed on the eyes to stop them deflating, is moved from the preparation room and into a mortuary fridge where it will be placed into a coffin

France’s pandemic death toll now stands at 76,201 after another 195 fatalities were reported on Sunday, the last day for which data is available, with another 19,235 cases reported on the same day.

Daily death and case tolls have now been rising near-continually since the country’s last lockdown ended on December 15 and was replaced by a system that includes night-time curfews and non-essential business closures. 

Macron was mulling putting a third lockdown into place last week, but on Friday opted instead to shut borders to all non-EU migrants and increase testing requirements for those from inside the bloc.

The moves do not affect freight travel to or from the UK, where border closures before Christmas over the emergence of a new and more-infectious new variant of the disease cause chaos.

French leaders are wary of importing cases of the new variant, which pushed UK case and death tolls up to all-time highs and at one point saw Britain with the highest death rate in the world, before a new nationwide lockdown and rapid vaccine roll-out brought things under control.

But experts have warned that politicians are ‘only delaying the inevitable’ with epidemiologist Catherine Hill telling leaders that ‘hospitals will be inundated’ unless the country goes into a third full lockdown now.

‘These [measures] cannot break the current dynamic,’ she told France24. ‘The virus is already circulating in the country so it’s too late to close the borders.’

The new UK variant is also spreading rapidly, studies released last week confirm, and now accounts for some 2,000 new cases each day – up from around 500 at the beginning of January.

While the UK is vaccinating its way out of lockdown and out of the third wave – some 9.5million have now received at least one dose of vaccine – France has no immediate prospect of following suit, having jabbed just 1.5million.

With the EU’s vaccine roll-out hit by delays thanks to late-placed orders, under-investment in early development, and rows with drug-makers, mass vaccination is not expected to begin in Europe until March at the earliest. 

A body is moved into the storage fridge at Beaujon Hospital in Paris after being prepared for burial by mortuary workers

A body is moved into the storage fridge at Beaujon Hospital in Paris after being prepared for burial by mortuary workers

Rows of bodies in storage are seen inside the fridge of Beaujon Hospital in Paris, before they are placed in coffins

Rows of bodies in storage are seen inside the fridge of Beaujon Hospital in Paris, before they are placed in coffins

Medical workers move the prepared body of a dead man into a coffin, where he will be arranged into a suitable pose ready for viewing and the funeral

Medical workers move the prepared body of a dead man into a coffin, where he will be arranged into a suitable pose ready for viewing and the funeral

The body of a dead woman that has been prepared and dressed is moved into a coffin, where it will be posed ahead of any family viewing and before the funeral

The body of a dead woman that has been prepared and dressed is moved into a coffin, where it will be posed ahead of any family viewing and before the funeral

A medical worker arranges a woman's scarf around her shoulders after she was posed in her coffin at a mortuary in Paris

A medical worker arranges a woman’s scarf around her shoulders after she was posed in her coffin at a mortuary in Paris

A fully prepared and posed body inside its coffin is brought into the viewing room of the mortuary so that family members can gather and remember the deceased

A fully prepared and posed body inside its coffin is brought into the viewing room of the mortuary so that family members can gather and remember the deceased

A fully prepared body inside a coffin is left in the viewing room of the mortuary ahead of the arrival of family and loved ones

A fully prepared body inside a coffin is left in the viewing room of the mortuary ahead of the arrival of family and loved ones

An employee of the mortuary wheels and empty stretcher along a concourse to collect another body for embalming

An employee of the mortuary wheels and empty stretcher along a concourse to collect another body for embalming

A member of the medical team prepares the viewing room of the mortuary for the arrival of family and loved ones, after a prepared body was placed inside

A member of the medical team prepares the viewing room of the mortuary for the arrival of family and loved ones, after a prepared body was placed inside

Meanwhile, patience with lockdown measures used to control the virus in Europe is wearing ever-thinner, with French restaurant owners and workers the latest to rebel.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire warned restaurant owners Monday that they risked losing Covid-19 financial aid if they open in defiance of the pandemic shutdown, following calls to protest and serve clients.

Angry owners say their livelihoods are at risk since the closures were ordered on October 30, with little prospect of a return to business as usual anytime soon.

Several chefs and thousands of people have already backed a call by Stephane Turillon, a chef in eastern France, for restaurants to open for protest meals on Monday.

‘It’s extremely hard for restaurants, economically and in terms of morale,’ Le Maire told RTL radio.

‘But in no way does that justify not respecting the rules,’ he said.

On Saturday, police in Paris said they discovered 24 restaurants operating illicitly on Thursday and Friday, and warned they would step up controls.

The Parisien newspaper reported Monday that one restaurant shut down on Friday was serving judges who worked at the nearby appeals court on the Ile de la Cite, just opposite from the Paris police headquarters.

Le Maire said owners caught serving clients would see their Covid solidarity funds suspended for a month, ‘and if they do it again, they won’t get any more at all’.

In Belgium, police detained more than 200 people taking part in two banned protests against anti-virus measures.

Polish police raided discos that defied restrictions on Saturday, using stun grenades and tear gas to clear dance floors.

In the Netherlands, which in recent days has seen violent protests against coronavirus curbs protesters Amsterdam police cleared out the city’s famous museum square after some 600 people gathered there for an illegal protest.

Thousands of protestors marched through the Austrian capital Vienna to protest coronavirus restrictions there, ignoring a police ban on the march and many shunning masks and social distancing. The march was organised by the far-right FPOe party.

In Brazil, protestors marched in several cities Sunday to condemn President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis.

‘The result of this mismanagement is more than 220,000 Covid deaths,’ Ruth Venceremos, an LGBTQ activist taking part in the protest, told AFP. ‘Enough with Bolsonaro – impeachment now!’

Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews meanwhile defied Israel’s coronavirus restrictions to attend a rabbi’s funeral on Sunday.


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