WATCH | Gauteng prepares for mass burials in case Covid-19 deaths spike

08 July 2020 - 16:47 By Shonisani Tshikalange

Sites are being prepared for a potential worst case scenario as Covid-19 infections soar in Gauteng — mass burials.

The province is on the brink of becoming the new epicentre of the pandemic in SA.

Provincial health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku and officials from the forensic pathology services visited an area reserved for Covid-19 burials in Tshwane on Wednesday.

Grave diggers seen working during an on-site visit by Dr Bandile Masuku, MEC of health in Gauteng, to the Honingnestkrans cemetery in Tshwane where Covid-19 burials will take place as and when required.
Grave diggers seen working during an on-site visit by Dr Bandile Masuku, MEC of health in Gauteng, to the Honingnestkrans cemetery in Tshwane where Covid-19 burials will take place as and when required.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/Sunday Times

Masuku said he was confident that Tshwane would be able to cater for any eventuality.

“For the past two months we have been visiting facilities that we will be using as a department. All our municipalities across the province have been preparing land that will be used for burials. We still have a good opportunity to manage how the peak treats us,” he said.

“The statistics have indicated that there is a 15%-30% increase in deaths from last year ... we also have other causes of death but we are seeing the pressure in the system generally.

“We will be going to other parts of the province to make sure that this part of the health system is also ready for any eventuality,” he said.

Dr Bandile Masuku visiting the Honingnestkrans cemetery in Tshwane. He said all municipalities across Gauteng have been preparing land that will be used for burials if there is a spike in Covid-19 deaths.
Dr Bandile Masuku visiting the Honingnestkrans cemetery in Tshwane. He said all municipalities across Gauteng have been preparing land that will be used for burials if there is a spike in Covid-19 deaths.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/Sunday Times

City of Tshwane COO James Murphy said the site was being prepared in case there was a need for mass burials.

“In total we have more than 200,000 spaces, including normal burial spaces, but our major concern is to prepare for mass burial. Fortunately, as the MEC indicated, the numbers in Tshwane are still very low. We are going to get to a time where we will not be able to do single burials, we are going to have to do mass burials and that would have to be directed by government itself,” he said.

Dr Bandile Masuku inspects a grave at Honingnestkrans cemetery in Tshwane.
Dr Bandile Masuku inspects a grave at Honingnestkrans cemetery in Tshwane.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/Sunday Times

Murphy said he was convinced that the 30ha available would be sufficient and hoped there would not be a need to bury so many people. “We hope we will never get to that but we would rather be on the side of readiness,” he added.

Grave diggers seen working during on an on-site visit by Dr Bandile Masuku, MEC of health in Gauteng.
Grave diggers seen working during on an on-site visit by Dr Bandile Masuku, MEC of health in Gauteng.
Image: THAPELO MOREBUDI/Sunday Times

Moeketsi Ramatsa, cluster manager of Sedibeng and Ekurhuleni districts for forensic pathology services, said bodies that were confirmed Covid-19 positive were handled carefully to minimise contamination.

“Bodies that are confirmed Covid-19 are moved from the hospital to a private funeral undertaker. They will then be kept there for not more than three days. In the morning of burial day, bodies are taken for the morning service which lasts for about an hour then taken to the grave. This is done to minimise any infections that might take place,” he said.

Dr Bandile Masuku, MEC of health in Gauteng, explains what will happen if Covid-19 deaths increase dramatically. Gauteng has more than 200,000 graves for mass burials.
Dr Bandile Masuku, MEC of health in Gauteng, explains what will happen if Covid-19 deaths increase dramatically. Gauteng has more than 200,000 graves for mass burials.
Image: THAPELO MOREBUDI/Sunday Times

Ramatsa said families were encouraged to go with the undertaker to hospitals or the government mortuary to view the body.

“We encourage families to go with the undertaker at hospitals or at the government mortuary to view the body there so that when the body is bagged there won't be a need for the coffin to be opened again at home. This is the protocol we have been following.

“We have advised private hospitals to follow the same protocol to minimise the contamination,” he said.


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