South African funeral home directors have spoken of ‘running out of coffins’ after they were overwhelmed by a 120 per cent surge in Covid-19 deaths.
The country is facing a highly-infectious mutant strain of coronavirus, which has caused the spike in deaths and cases – 422 people died yesterday whilst more than 15,000 tested positive for the virus.
Funeral undertakers are now hoping the government will find a vaccine and have it rolled out across the country amid high demand for coffins, increasing numbers of their staff dying from the virus and policy cancellations.
South African funeral home directors have spoken of ‘running out of coffins’ after they were overwhelmed by a 120 per cent surge in Covid-19 deaths. Pictured: Funeral workers in PPE carry a casket during the burial of a Covid-19 patient in Joburn, South Africa today
Pictured: Funeral workers disinfect their equipment used after a burial of a Covid-19 patient
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday he is ‘incredibly worried’ about the highly-infectious South African coronavirus mutation which top experts fear could scupper Britain’s vaccine roll-out.
South African funeral director Thabiso Maumakoe, who runs the Tshipi-Noto funeral home in Delmas, Mpumalanga, said he and his staff – many of whom are parents or elderly – are ‘scared’.
‘We are aware that this is a different variant and just like everyone else, we are scared as a business and human beings,’ he told SABC News.
‘We have parents and the elderly, so there is definitely fear within the team.’
The new South African coronavirus mutant, called 501.V2, was announced in Cape Town in December and is believed to be a more extreme variant than Britain’s new Covid strain which plunged millions into miserable Christmas lockdowns.
Cases in South Africa have soared from fewer than 3,000 a day at the start of December to more than 15,000 per day, with the mutant accounting for up to 90 percent of those new infections.
Muzi Hlengwa, the president of the National Funeral Practitioners Association of South Africa said he had never witnessed anything like this during his career.
‘It is something you have never seen before. We have run out of coffins, we have run out of space at the mortuary,’ he said.
‘Some funerals have had to be postponed because there is no burial space. We even have cremations done at night.’
Meanwhile Mr Maumakoe has been offering financial help and funeral cover to his clients as many are now unable to afford the cost of the burial.
The beginning of the New Year is usually a quiet time of the year for funeral homes, but staff are bracing themselves for more burials as the number of deaths continue to rise daily in South Africa.
uneral undertakers are now hoping the government will find a vaccine and have it rolled out across the country amid high demand for coffins, increasing numbers of their staff dying from the virus and policy cancellations
Mr Maumakoe said the demand has left them with a shortage of coffins.
‘Coffin manufacturers are overwhelmed and they are battling with the demand. On top of this, they are is no variety and indeed we are dealing with the effect of not getting supplies on time.’
He added: ‘Last week, our numbers shot up by 120 per cent and this week our numbers are climbing up again. These are not our normal numbers.’
Despite the increased demand for funerals, the businesses are struggling financially.
‘This is definitely not a business boom for us, said Mr Maumakoe. ‘We are not making money from this because operational costs have gone up.
‘The lockdown has also led to cancellation of policies. Some don’t have money to bury and we have to find a way to help them.’
Mr Maumakoe said the demand has left them with a shortage of coffins in South Africa
Another funeral director, David Mlilo, who runs Sisonke funerals in South Africa and Zimbabwe, said it was a struggle to bury people between the countries.
‘I spent my new year’s eve on the way to Zimbabwe. I will be going out again tomorrow or Tuesday…
When you get to the place you to bury someone, there are different scenarios. There was one where they told me I had to get the body out of the house.
We had to carry the body ourselves to the grave. If we get those vaccines, it will be easier for us. It will make our lives easier.’
South Africa has been in turmoil since the new strain emerged in their country. Since Christmas Eve, the number of cases has increased from 10,821 to 15,186 yesterday.
The number of deaths are increasing daily at a scary rate with 422 recorded deaths yesterday compared to 281 deaths on Christmas Eve.
Several countries have banned travellers from South Africa to try and contain the spread of the new strain, including the UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
But the variant has already been detected in two locations in Britain in contacts of people who had recently visited the African nation.