Coronavirus deaths force UK morgues to improvise

Tent installed in the town of Epsom to accommodate victims of coronavirus. | // REUTERS

A Coruña / London

Dozens of bodies arrive every day in a white tent, a makeshift morgue installed in the middle of an Epsom esplanade, in southern England, in a country with hospitals overwhelmed by the new coronavirus.

The United Kingdom is being hit hard by a variant of COVID-19 considered more contagious and that has caused the cases of infected people and mortality due to this disease to skyrocket. Last Friday, 1,325 deaths were registered in 24 hours, something never seen since the crisis began. This situation has put hospitals under great pressure, both their intensive care units and their morgues. And, rebound, also to the funeral sector.

In the absence of places, the temporary Epsom morgue in Surrey county, southwest of London, houses 170 bodies, more than half of them victims of COVID-19, according to the City Council. Last March, when this morgue was installed, in twelve weeks 700 corpses passed through there. By comparison, “since December 21, after just two and a half weeks, 300 bodies had passed” through this temporary morgue, a municipal spokesman said.

In London, one person in twenty inhabitants is infected with the new coronavirus, much more than the national average – already high – of one person in 50. A situation that has led to the installation of a new temporary morgue near the crematorium of Breakspear, in the northwest of the British capital, to “complete the existing capacity”, a spokesman for the local authorities told AFP. However, it is not yet operational.

Siraj Qazi, director of the Ghousia Funeral Service, a funeral home for the Muslim community in Luton, 20 miles north of London, also noted a “massive influx” in recent weeks. “We conduct burials every day and the deaths we are currently dealing with are mainly linked to COVID,” Qazi said.

Death levels now border on those of March and April, when the first wave of the pandemic peaked and his company was almost overwhelmed.

One piece of information perfectly reflects the scale of the tragedy: the United Kingdom last year registered the highest annual growth in deaths since World War II, according to figures released yesterday by the National Statistics Office (ONS).

In 2020, the United Kingdom registered 697,000 deaths, 15% more than the average number of deaths registered in previous years and the highest percentage corresponding to a 12-month period since 1940. Experts also warn that the situation may worsen by the increase in COVID deaths due to the spread of a new strain of coronavirus. Richard Murray, director of the King’s Fund, a charity that works to improve the health and social well-being of the population, said yesterday that the United Kingdom has one of the highest levels of deaths in the world per million inhabitants.

Johnson does not lead by example: by bicycle, 11 km from home

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is at the center of criticism for having been seen riding a bicycle far from his London residence, despite the fact that the population is asked to exercise near his home as part of the measures of the current confinement in England due to the pandemic. This incident comes to light after several ministers endorsed the police decision last week to fine two women in Derbyshire, northern England, after they drove a five-mile drive to a park for a walk. These fines were suspended on Monday and the Derbyshire Police apologized to the two women. Johnson was seen wearing a helmet, a mask and riding a bicycle on Sunday afternoon in the Olympic Park in east London and about seven miles from his official residence at 10 Downing Street. The Downing Street residence declined to comment on the walk that the politician made on Sunday afternoon. The Prime Minister is passionate about cycling and, when he was Mayor of London, he would always ride it from Islington to the city hall on the River Thames. Labor MP Andy Slaughter stated that the Head of Government should “lead by example” given that London has a high level of COVID-19 infections but that, Johnson is, “once again, do what I say and do not that I do”.

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