Hospitals in South Africa have resorted to shipping containers as hospital authorities improvise to cope with the high number of corpses due to COVID-19 deaths.
According to local media, 17 plastic-wrapped corpses, each bearing a yellow label reading “highly contagious” are stacked in 12m metal containers fitted with temperature regulators to keep the bodies intact.
Reports confirmed that a 12m steel box has been installed at Johannesburg morgue to help it cope with a rising tide of Covid-19 deaths. The container can store up to 40 corpses, keeping them at a constant zero degrees Celsius.
South Africa is the worst-hit country on the continent with more than 1.4 million coronavirus cases and 40,800 deaths. It was already struggling to beat back infections when they surged to unprecedented levels this month after scientists detected a new virus variant widely believed to be more contagious.
“We have seen an increase of around 40 per cent (in corpses) across the country,” said spokesman Marius du Plessis of AVBOB, a leading funeral and burial service provider in the country.
To help store the influx of bodies – and ensure Covid-19 victims are separated from others – AVBOB has distributed 22 containers normally used for transporting goods to its 250 South African morgues.
Coffin makers are also feeling the strain. “I can’t take any more orders,” repeats the secretary of Johannesburg manufacturer Enzo Wood every time she answers the phone. More than 100 workers have been labouring non-stop since the early morning, spraying sawdust across the factory floor.
The noise is deafening as machines turn relentlessly for eight hours a day, churning out dozens of wooden planks. It then takes only 20 minutes to assemble a coffin.
Coffins are a symbolic investment for mourning families in South Africa, where funerals are pricey ceremonies marked with week-long vigils, decor and catering. Some of Enzo Wood’s fanciest coffins can sell for up to 6,500 rand (S$564).