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City prepares for expected peak rise in COVID-19 fatalities

City prepares for expected peak rise in COVID-19 fatalities

by City of Cape Town
20 May 2020

The City of Cape Town’s cemeteries have put in place a Fatalities Management Plan in preparation for increased demand in burial space as COVID-19 deaths rise. In addition, the City is encouraging the public to consider cremation as an alternative.

While the demand for burial and cremation of COVID-19 victims is still manageable, the City is preparing individual graves to ensure a dignified service to the immediate family. 

Under normal circumstances, there are an average of 1 200 burials and 360 cremations accommodated in City Cemeteries and Crematoria per month. Additional capacity for burial and cremation is also provided by private cemeteries and crematoria. Current projections estimate that in the worst case peak scenario, fatalities could rise to about 5 280 per month as a combined total of normal and COVID-19 related deaths.

The City can confirm that it has adequate space to accommodate the increase in burial demand.  There are a few existing cemeteries with adequate space, however Atlantis, Welmoed, Klip, Maitland and Wallacedene cemeteries have been assessed and found to have the largest reserves in burial blocks available for a high volume of burials to take place simultaneously.  

Statistics show that the preferred day for burials is currently on Saturdays. The City requests the public to consider burials on weekdays, at reduced tariffs, so to limit the safety risks and possible congestion at the cemeteries. Funeral attendees are also reminded to maintain social distancing and wear a face mask at all times. As the number of burials increase over time, it may become necessary for the City to put measures in place for an even spread of burial bookings across other days in the week. This will ensure that the capacity of cemeteries is efficiently utilised and allow for time to prepare adequately for all burials.

‘We want to encourage people to consider cremation, especially where their cultural and religious beliefs do not preclude it. Discuss preferences with family members, as so often a person dies unexpectedly, without having told anyone that they prefer to be cremated. When in doubt, the family normally chooses burial. Burial is generally more expensive and there is often a lot of pressure placed on the bereaved to provide expensive coffins and memorials afterwards. Cremation is a less expensive alternative and ashes can be scattered or buried in a family grave at a fraction of the cost,’ said the City's Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health, Councillor Zahid Badroodien.

The City owns Maitland Crematorium, while there are several privately owned crematoriums within the Western Cape Province.

'We understand that this will prove challenging for some of our residents and different burial cultures; however, in the interest of public safety we appeal for the public’s understanding and co-operation. The City has also prioritised engagements with funeral undertakers, mortuaries and religious fraternities to ensure that they are kept abreast of the latest legislative requirements. The stakeholders in the fatalities management system are interdependent and communication is key to mitigating any challenges arising from a pressurised and sensitive system.

‘Cemeteries remain operational as an essential service and while there have always been strict conditions, we have tightened safety measures even further during burials. We realise this is a difficult time for everyone concerned, but the national regulations have to be adhered to,’ explained Councillor Badroodien.

Below are the most important rules currently in place, which apply to funerals and burials:

  • Funeral services are being held outside of City facilities subject to the relevant Alert Level and lockdown regulations. Funeral services are restricted to a gathering of a maximum 50 people  
  • The Recreation and Parks Department is only responsible for burials at municipal cemeteries. Burials are arranged by undertakers and funeral directors through electronic bookings

Undertakers are required to advise clients of the lockdown rules for travelling to and from the cemetery. The current national regulations stipulate that:

  • Undertakers must carry essential services letters and supply each car in convoy with a funeral leaflet, with information about the name of deceased, time, date and place of burial  
  • Undertakers must ensure that the family adheres to the restriction of a maximum of 50 people permitted to attend each burial. This total includes the priest, family members, undertaker staff and guests. It is recommended that if required, a register of mourners leaving the church and traveling to the cemetery be taken and used to manage access control on arrival at the cemetery
  • Regrettably, the City cannot provide hand sanitiser, soap, water or masks for the public while at cemeteries. It is strongly recommended that undertakers make provision for their clients and encourage hand sanitising as frequently as possible
  • All mourners should observe the 1m social distancing rule between each other while at the graveside. Hand shaking, hugging and kissing should also be avoided
  • A maximum of 10 chairs and one 2 x 3m gazebo is all that is permitted during lockdown  
  • Please note that burial times are to be strictly adhered to and only 30 minutes is allowed in the cemetery for each burial

'These measures have been put in place based on what is currently known about COVID-19. This is subject to change as and when national regulations are updated,’ added Councillor Badroodien.

For further enquiries please contact Cemetery.Administration@capetown.gov.za

Note to broadcasters:
an audio clip is available here: https://soundcloud.com/ct-media/20052020-badroodien-cemeteries

Issued by: Media Office, City of Cape Town

Media enquiries: Councillor Zahid Badroodien, Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health, City of Cape Town, Cell: 072 639 5773, Email: zahid.badroodien@capetown.gov.za (please always copy media.account@capetown.gov.za)

Tags: COVID-19 coronavirus City of Cape Town