São Paulo’s municipal funeral service has increased the number of vehicles used to transport bodies and bought more coffins in response to an increasing demand related to the Covid-19 outbreak. According to local authorities, 60 percent of the cities’ 257 gravediggers are over 60 and had to be put on leave as they are considered high-risk groups. The City Hall hired 220 contractors for the next six months.
The funeral fleet used to transport bodies was increased by 20 percent to 56 hearses. Ten will be used exclusively for confirmed or suspected Covid-19 victims. In March, authorities also refueled the stock of coffins, with 8,000 new units — 30 percent more than the usual 6,000-unit purchase every six months. As part of a previously announced expansion plan, 1,000 new graves will be installed in the public cemeteries of Vila Mariana and Vila Alpina, but there is no due date yet.
This “war effort” comes as deaths increase progressively in São Paulo, with 2,981 of Brazil’s 6,836 confirmed cases. As of April 1, 164 deaths by Covid-19 have been confirmed in the state, or 68 percent of all the casualties in Brazil.
A report by newspaper Folha de S.Paulo shows that São Paulo’s public cemeteries are burying at least 30 suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients per day. The high number of unconfirmed cases is explained by the delay in tests, caused by a backlog at Instituto Adolpho Lutz, the laboratory in charge of all coronavirus testing on the public health service. There are still 201 deaths in the state of São Paulo awaiting results of Covid-19 tests, State Governor João Doria said this Wednesday during a press conference.
But the demand for funerary services is set to grow even without Covid-19. According to City Hall data, on average, 250 people are buried by municipal funerary services every day, but the number jumps to 340 in winter, due to respiratory problems.
Extra hygiene measures
To avoid contamination — even cadavers may remain contagious — Covid-19 victims or suspected cases will be treated differently in São Paulo. Bodies will be packed in special bags. To avoid crowds, all funerals in the city have been limited to ten people and cannot last for more than one hour. Funerals are not advised for Covid-19 victims, and in the case they go ahead they must be closed casket ceremonies.City Hall says it is providing protective gear and hand sanitizers for all ‘deathcare’ employees, as well as adopting hygiene measures to wash hearses. A BBC report shows that these workers fear contamination, as the delay in tests is leading to the burial of many suspected cases without the proper protective equipment.