'We are ready for the storm,' says Salga as municipalities prepare for mass burials

Salga president Thembi Nkadimeng says environmental health practitioners from the big metros have been working closely with mortuaries and funeral undertakers on how to handle and dispose of Covid-19 related corpses.

19 April 2020 - 11:23 By THABO MOKONE
Thembi Nkadimeng says municipalities are preparing for mass burials
Thembi Nkadimeng says municipalities are preparing for mass burials
Image: Tshepo Kekana

The country's eight metro municipalities are gearing up to deal with mass burials related to Covid-19 deaths, with the pandemic expected to reach its peak in the coming weeks.

This is according to the mayor of the city of Polokwane, Thembi Nkadimeng, who was speaking in her capacity as the president of the SA Local Government Association (Salga).

Nkadimeng on Friday said environmental health practitioners from the big metro municipalities such as Johannesburg in Gauteng, Cape Town in the Western Cape and eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal have been working closely with mortuaries and funeral undertakers on how to handle and dispose of Covid-19 related corpses.

Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal are respectively the epicentres of the coronavirus infections for which 3,034 people in the country had tested positive by Friday night while another 52 had succumbed to the killer virus.

Coronavirus infections were expected to reach their peak in the coming months once the national lockdown was partially or completely removed.

The lockdown has had a debilitating effect on the economy but helped minimise the rapid spread of the virus while it bought government more time to prepare for the winter season during which Covid-19 infections were expected to shoot up.

Nkadimeng told TimesLIVE that Salga was taking steps to ensure that municipalities identify and prepare special sites for mass burials of people who could be killed by the respiratory disease.

“We are ready now, as a country we need work towards preparing for solutions for the storm,” said Nkadimeng, adding that government-owned mortuaries could be overwhelmed during the expected peak of coronavirus infections later this year.

“We're talking about capacity of state and public mortuaries to have the capacity to carry (the deaths) if it were to happen en masse.

“The anticipation is that we'll not be able to have the capacity if it happened en masse, therefore we need additional capacity in terms of public mortuaries and in terms of availability of land and sites where people could bury.

“If you look at statistics that we have, it does confirm that we have around 31,000 shelves that are available at a mortuary level, both public and private. Now if you're preparing for en masse it means we need more than that.”

Nkadimeng said it was necessary for municipalities to be proactive in this regard, given that many already had their cemeteries at almost full capacity.

She said those keen to do so, would also be encouraged to consider cremation.

“Most of our sites in municipal areas are almost towards their full capacity. Depending on the availability, if you've got sufficient sites there's no issue, it means you have graves available. We need to have your cremation services available depending on who wants to use, which option of burial do you want.”


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