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'So many bodies piled up': Hong Kong funeral services overwhelmed by COVID


At a Hong Kong public hospital’s mortuary, funeral director Hades Chung claimed the body of a COVID-19 victim on behalf of his family who lives in mainland China. The family could not arrive in time due to quarantine measures. 

Chan, accompanied by his colleague in full protective gear, opened the coffin and spread paper money on the body as part of a traditional ritual before sending it to a cremation site. 

"I feel heartbroken," Chan, 31, who has been working round the clock to help bereaved families, as the global financial hub battles a surge in COVID-19 deaths that is overwhelming its funeral parlours.

Since the fifth wave of coronavirus hit the former British colony this year, it has reported more than a million infections and nearly 8,000 deaths. Scenes of bodies stacked in emergency rooms next to patients have shocked many as places in mortuaries run out.

"I’ve never seen so many bodies that they have been piled up together," said another funeral director Lok Chung, 37, who has been organising about 40 funerals in March, up from roughly 15 in an average month.

"I’ve never seen the family members been so upset, so disappointed," he said.

Housewife Kate, 36 said the March death of her father-in-law from COVID-19 took a huge emotional toll on the family and added that her biggest regret was being unable to visit him in hospital.

"When they (the doctors and nurses) thought my father-in-law’s situation was not ok, we rushed to the hospital, but it was too late. As he was in the isolation ward, we couldn’t see him for the last time," she told Reuters at the funeral ceremony.

 

 

The surge in COVID-19 deaths has resulted in a long wait for documents, including death certificates, to be processed, according to Chung.

Traditional wooden coffins are running short, and also in demand are the traditional paper replicas of items, from cars to homes and other personal effects, burnt as offerings at Chinese funerals for use in the afterlife. Much of the delay is blamed on a logjam in transport from the neighbouring southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, which supplies many of the items, but is now fighting its outbreak of COVID-19.

The border with Hong Kong is largely closed due to the disease.

China supplies more than 95% of the 250 to 300 coffins Hong Kong needs each day, authorities said.

It received more than 3,570 coffins during the period from March 14 to 26, after the government of the Chinese-ruled city coordinated with mainland authorities.

The six crematoriums now run almost round the clock to get through nearly 300 cremations a day or double the usual figure. And public mortuaries have been expanded to accommodate 4,600 bodies from 1,350 earlier, authorities said.

Non-government body Forget Thee Not has partnered with an eco-friendly coffin maker LifeArt Asia, to donate 300 such coffins and 1,000 boxes of preservatives to six public hospitals. Each coffin is made of cardboard with recycled wood fibres and can take a weight up to 200 kg (441 lb).

Placed in coffins or body bags, the powder-like preservative turns to gas, to keep the body in its natural state for up to five days.

"We are in the eye of the storm," said LifeArt Asia's chief executive, Wilson Tong. "And amid this storm, we are trying to provide a moment of respite."

Published : April 06, 2022

By : Reuters