The uMgungundlovu District Municipality, in KwaZulu-Natal, and its local municipalities are preparing for mass burial sites and field hospitals should there be an increase of Covid-19 infections and deaths in the region.
This was among the issues discussed at a meeting on Tuesday between the municipalities and owners of local funeral parlours.
Speaking to media after the meeting, uMgungundlovu district manager Dr Ray Ngcobo said: “We are preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.”
He said the local government leadership met the funeral service providers because they wanted to ensure they are on the same page in terms of the strict measures currently in place for funerals to prevent the spread of Covid-19. These measures include families not keeping bodies overnight before the funerals or touching the deceased.
“We are trying to prevent a situation where funerals become havens of Covid-19. We know it’s an occasion where people are emotional and may not be thinking about the health implications of some their decisions.”
Ngcobo said funeral parlours should also not allow the families to come and wash the body before the burial and they must use three body bags instead of one at all times.
Ngcobo said the municipalities are encouraging people to consider cremations but understand that it is a sensitive issue for most black people as it is against their cultural beliefs.
He said those who go ahead with funerals must have registers to be signed by all who attend so they can be tracked down easily should there be a suspected case of Covid-19 among them.
Possible increase in deaths
In preparation for a possible increase in deaths and the demand for health services, Ngcobo said Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg's municipality) is among those municipalities that have identified pockets of land that can be turned into mass graves, emergency cemeteries and field hospitals.
“I can’t share the locations of those yet because they are still subject to cabinet approval but these are amongst the measures we are putting in place to prepare for whatever the future brings because we don’t want to be caught with our pants down should things take a turn for the worst.”
He said the City has also committed to allocate more funding to prepare its crematoriums in case there is an increase in the demand for their use.
Ngcobo said during the meeting morticians also asked the government to increase the capacity of state mortuaries to fast track the turnaround time on Covid-19 cases. He said they also want bodies of those who died of Covid-19 to go straight from the state morgue to the burial sites.
These requests will be considered by the provincial Covid-19 command council for approval.
Undertakers such as Phumlani Njilo of Induduzo Bespoke Funerals and Khayelihle Funeral Services’ Muzi Mkhize also want the government to embark on a massive awareness campaign to educate the public about the burials while the country grapples with Covid-19.