Covid-19 deaths: Funeral home running out of coffins converts shipping containers into mortuaries

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A funeral parlour staff member in personal protective gear prepares a grave for a Covid-19-related burial.
A funeral parlour staff member in personal protective gear prepares a grave for a Covid-19-related burial.
Felix Dlangamandla
  • Leading funeral homes in the Eastern Cape are running out of coffins as funerals are held every day of the week due to Covid-19.
  • The demand for bigger coffins has risen rapidly due to a growing number of overweight or obese people succumbing to the virus.
  • Avbob says it has converted shipping containers into mobile mortuaries to meet the demand at 19 branches across South Africa.

Leading funeral homes in the Eastern Cape are running out of coffins as funerals are being held every day of the week, as opposed to once a week, due to rising Covid-19 death rate.

On Monday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa placed the country on adjusted Level 3 lockdown and warned that the number of new coronavirus infections was climbing at an unprecedented rate.

The demand for bigger coffins has risen rapidly due to a growing number of overweight and obese people succumbing to the virus, said owner of Nomtshongwana Funeral Undertakers Vusi Nomtshongwana.

"Since last month, I order two oversized coffins per week, whereas normally I would order one oversized coffin once every six months," he said.

People with comorbidities - like obesity - are at risk of dying of Covid-19, the health department has said previously.

Nomtshongwana Funeral Undertakers, a respected funeral home based in Mdantsane in the Buffalo City Metro, has been serving large parts of the metro since its establishment in 1978. 

READ | SA tops 1 million Covid-19 cases

"I am finding that I am needing more coffins, an overall of 20 coffins per week, whereas before Covid-19, I only needed 10 coffins per week. The workload has doubled and even tripled. We conduct funeral services on daily basis whereas before the Covid, we would be conducting funeral services on weekends,” the funeral home said.

Avobob Funeral Service has its own factory based in Bloemfontein manufacturing and distributing coffins to hundreds of funeral homes across the country, including at its 23 branches in the Eastern Cape.  

General manager for corporate affairs Adriaan Bester confirmed that the demand for coffins had increased.

"We used 140% more coffins compared to last December," he said.

READ | SA's new Covid-19 variant: Top scientist talks to BI

"We carry good quantities of stock at our branches nationwide, but can replenish that stock from our factory at short notice. We also provide stock to other undertakers."

Bester also revealed that they had increased their mortuary capacity by converting shipping containers into cold storages in 19 branches across the country.

"In some areas our case load has grown by more than 100%. We have placed mobile container mortuaries at 19 sites around the country and have more units available should the need arise," he said.

Johann Rossouw, chairperson of the Funeral Industry Reformed Association (FIRA) which represents 30 000 small funeral homes and 80 000 staffers, said FIRA would look into assisting parlours facing a critical shortage of coffins in the Eastern Cape.

"We have got alternative options and people within our networks that could assist at short notice if there is a problem within the Eastern Cape in terms of shortage of coffins."

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