Belgium turns to makeshift morgues as coronavirus deaths strain funeral homes
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    Belgium turns to makeshift morgues as coronavirus deaths strain funeral homes

    The excess mortality measures in Belgium in the first week of April was about 80%, which means 80% more deaths than expected. Credit: Belga

    Authorities in Belgium have begun setting up makeshift morgues to store bodies as funeral homes become overwhelmed by the surging death toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

    A refrigerated truck capable of storing 36 coffins has been hired by the Walloon city of Liège in an effort to buy some time to local funeral homes, a city councillor confirmed.

    “A bottleneck situation was building up in funeral homes, with some services that worked through the weekend already having to rent additional storage spaces,” City Councillor Elisabeth Fraipont told The Brussels Times.

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    The truck will be used as a “complementary morgue,” in a move by the city to provide a response to private funeral homes, who alerted authorities of their need for additional capacity.

    According to the latest official figures, the number of deaths in Belgium as a result of the coronavirus pandemic stood at 2,523 on Thursday, with Flanders accounting for nearly half (1,178) of deaths, followed by Wallonia (943) and Brussels (402).

    “We set up the [truck] yesterday in the parking lot of the Robertmont funeral centre and today two slots have already been filled,” Nathalie Drion, Administrative Director of Liège’s Department of Citizen Affairs said on the phone.

    The director of Robermont, a public funeral and cremation site, said that the situation there remained “so far under control but” told Le Soir that staff were now beginning work at 6:00 AM and that they were doing 23 cremations a day, up from an average of 18.

    In Brussels, the municipality of Auderghem has taken over the cold-storage rooms of the Adep sports centre’s kitchens for the storage of bodies, Le Soir reports.

    Municipal Mayor Didier Gousin said the communal morgue had reached its total capacity and that funeral homes were not able to assist local authorities either.

    The makeshift morgue has a capacity to store up to 20 bodies, with two bodies already placed there for storage.

    Amid the pandemic, the morgue in the neighbouring municipality of Watermael-Boitsfort has also reached maximum capacity.

    The capital region’s inter-municipal crematorium in Uccle said that they were “slowly nearing full capacity,” even as they said they had doubled their storage capacities.

    With a daily death count lingering consistently in the mid-hundreds, Belgium has one of the highest death tolls per 1 million inhabitants in the world, only behind Spain and Italy and the microstates of Andorra and San Marino.

    Gabriela Galindo
    The Brussels Times