BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA/RICHARD MUPONDE
FUNERAL service providers have indicated that they are overwhelmed by COVID-19 deaths and warned that the country could be forced to bury deceased citizens in mass graves if the upward trend of new infections and deaths continues, NewsDay Weekender can reveal.
The funeral service providers, whose profits are determined by the increase in death rate, painted a gloomy picture of the situation in the morgues at a time the country was ravaged by increased fatalities to the virulent virus.
In a virtual address delivered on Thursday, Nyaradzo Funeral Services chief executive officer Phillip Mataranyika said his firm’s morgues were overwhelmed with dead bodies, resulting in it taking longer to bury the deceased.
He said the company’s preparatory measures against the pandemic, which included doubling mortuary capacity and recruitment of more staff, were eclipsed by the surge in deaths.
“Removal of our dead to the custody of the end of life service providers has been slow,” Mataranyika said.
“Where ordinarily it took a couple of minutes, it is now taking hours. Burial has been delayed in some cases by a day or two. In other cases, we have not been given definite burial times. In some countries, there has been burial of COVID-19 deaths in mass graves because (funeral) service providers were overwhelmed. This happened in the United States and India, as examples. In Zimbabwe, we have not yet gotten to the stage, but let us not be complacent. The future is uncertain and we can very well get to that stage.”
While announcing fresh lockdown measures recently, President Emmerson Mnangagwa urged citizens to get vaccinated, stating that approximately 80% of the latest COVID-19 cases in the country were of the Delta variant, first detected in India.
This week on Tuesday, Zimbabwe recorded 107 deaths, the highest record since the beginning of the pandemic in March last year.
On Thursday, the country recorded 2 089 new cases and 81 deaths, up from 60 recorded the previous day.
“Our hospitals are full of the sick and our morgues are full of the dead,” Mataranyika said.
“Our colleagues in the health sector are doing all they can to save lives. Sometimes their efforts are not rewarded, resulting in loss of lives and this has happened on numerous occasions. Each time this has happened, morgues have borne the brunt. Because there have been many deaths, the end of life industry has faced immense pressure, resulting in delays all round.”
The warning came at a time when the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has indicated that the Delta variant, which is prevalent in Zimbabwe, was as contagious and transmissible as chicken pox.
Data from the US CDC shows that the Delta variant is deadlier than earlier stated, as it could infect and be spread by people who are fully vaccinated, according to a CNN report.
Moonlight Funeral Assurance and Services director Charity Mungofa said due to the limited working hours under level 4 lockdown, the company was sometimes failing to meet the demand for burial services required per day.
She said the company still had enough space in its morgues, but was facing staff shortage.
“We would have all bereaving families wanting to lay to rest their beloved at almost the same time so that they finish the process before curfew time,” Mungofa said.
“As a result, we have a situation where the demand for undertakers is higher than the available employees.”
She said the company was providing services for an average of 15 deaths per day.
Doves Holdings Zimbabwe spokesperson Innocent Tshuma said the company anticipated an increased demand and had adopted some preparatory measures, but it was experiencing some delays in burials.
“There are several deceased coming from certain hotspots from time-to-time, hence removals of bodies may take slightly longer,” he said.
“We are currently operating at less than 50% of our mortuary capacity. We have ordered new hearses, tents and other tools of the trade to ensure we are able to provide dignified send-offs to our loved ones.”
Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Solwayo Ngwenya said if the public continued defying COVID-19 regulations, more vicious variants, the Delta Plus and Vietnamese, could hit the country.
Speaking during a programme Isiqokoqela Sendaba, hosted on State broadcaster yesterday, Ngwenya said the country risked being hit by more vicious variants because they mutate in overcrowded places.
“Our people are disregarding all the COVID-19 measures. They are attending funeral wakes all night, visiting each other. There is too much crowding which leads to the spread of variants,” he said.
“There are two more very deadly variants that will wipe people. We have Delta Plus and Vietnamese variants. The last one is a combination of the British and the Indian variants. These are very deadly, they kill more than the Delta variant. We risk being hit by those if our people don’t change their behaviour.”
Follow us on Twitter @NewsDayZimbabwe