Funeral parlour staff preparing a grave
Funeral parlour staff preparing a grave for a Covid-19-related death at Waterval Cemetery in Chloorkop, Johannesburg.
PHOTO: Felix Dlangamandla
  • The funeral industry in Gauteng is already starting to feel the brunt of South Africa's third wave of infections.
  • Cluster outbreaks especially within families have increased and in some instances are causing burial delays.
  • Some undertakers have also lamented coffin shortages and bodies piling up at mortuaries.  
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As Covid-19 deaths surge in third-wave gripped Gauteng, undertakers are burying multiple family members and are already starting to run out of cold storage and coffins.

Gauteng on Friday reached a one-day provincial high of 11,777 positive coronavirus cases. Of the 72,586 reported positive cases in South Africa this week, 45,867 were from Gauteng.

Nkateko Mabindisa, chief of operations at funeral home Vuyo's Funeral Services, told Business Insider South Africa that there was already a significant increase in the number of cluster deaths they are dealing with.

"We have seen a rise in multiple deaths within a family. It does cause delays because it comes with a cost factor for the family," Mabindisa said.

"In most of the cases, you'll have a family member that has passed away, another one is in hospital. So, the family is kind of reluctant to conclude funeral arrangements, thinking 'we’ll bury, and them the next day, someone else is going to die'," she said.

While the funeral industry, which learned from the first and second waves, increased mortuary space, funeral vehicles, and staff, cluster deaths are in part the reason behind burial delays, Lawrence Konyana, deputy president of the National Funeral Directors' Association of Southern Africa told Business Insider SA.

"It also increases the pressure on us in terms of vehicles, in terms of facilities, and in terms of equipment as well," Konyana said.

Adding to their woes is the Ekurhuleni municipality’s decision to suspend burials on Sundays, which causes congestion at cemeteries on Saturdays.

But every day is crucial with mortuaries filling up quickly, says Nhlanhla Bhembe, deputy chair of the National Funeral Practitioners Association of South Africa in Gauteng, and the chair of the South African Chamber of Undertakers.

"We need every day to bury because you don't know what's going to happen the following day; bodies are piling up at the mortuaries. We are running out of space. As soon as you get the body, the sooner you bury so that we can have space in the mortuary," Bhembe said.   

Normally, some funeral parlours rent cold storage from mortuaries and other undertakers with capacity, but these are also taking strain because of the increased deaths.

The supply of coffins is also starting to thin, with coffin suppliers struggling to keep up with current demand levels, he said.

Mabindisa, who expects deaths to peak in the next two weeks, said Vuyo's Funeral Services has had to stockpile coffins to guard against any potential shortages.

"We've generated a system of bulk buying; we compared what we went through, especially in the first wave. We anticipate that our peak season has doubled in terms of numbers, and what we used this time last year is generally what we'll need this time," she said.

"So, we've prepared ourselves by making sure that we acquire all our necessary stock in bulk so that when the peak comes in the next two weeks, we don't turn families back or delay burials," said Mabindisa.

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