Colombia’s capital has provided refrigeration containers to cemeteries that can barely keep up with the cremation of deceased COVID-19 patients, according to Bogota’s health secretary.
The city has been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and is entering the weeks that have been projected as the peak of the pandemic.
Dealing with mass death
Seven of the city’s public cemeteries have the total capacity to cremate approximately 100 people a day, Health Secretary Alejandro Gomez told press on Friday.
This number was exceeded by COVID-19 deaths alone several times over the past week with a record number of 141 reported on Thursday.
Gomez said his office is talking to privately owned funeral homes whose cremation facilities could raise the city’s cremation capacity to 238.
Bogota’s cremation capacity during pandemic
Sources: National Health Institute / Bogota Health Secretary
According to Noticias Uno, some of the containers are already being used.
Only if local authorities’ cremation facilities — if they have any — are maxed out , the Health Ministry allows the burial of deceased patients.
The industrialization of what used to be a ritual
The cremation manager of the Serafin cemetery in southern Bogota, Carlos Martinez, told newspaper El Tiempo he has been receiving between 70 and 80 bodies a day.
Before the pandemic, Martinez said he would do four cremations a day and deplored how people are being cremated without their families being able to take part in any ritual, as cremations have become practically industrialized.
The dead are arriving absolutely alone now. The driver is the only person on the float. There are no family members, no relatives.
Serafin cemetery worker Carlos Martinez
Doctors and cemetery workers distraught
Also doctors are distraught that COVID-19 patients aren’t just buried alone, but die alone, and that the risk of contagion deprives their families of the possibility to mourn.
The current situation is close to inhumane, Hernan Bayrona, the director of the Bogota’s Medical College, told El Tiempo.
Infected patients are quarantined and, especially if they are in an intensive care unit (ICU), they suffer and die alone.
The situation of patients who are in the ICU for COVID-19 is very difficult, as they die in solitude. There is no family accompaniment because of the situation. Knowing that their family member dies and they could not see them or say goodbye is very painful. The admission of the patients is very close to inhumane, since they cannot express their pain.
Bogota’s Medical College president Hernan Bayrona
According to the Serafin cemetery worker, some families have been following the cars transporting the dead from the hospital to the cemetery, desperately try to catch a last glimpse of their deceased loved one before they are cremated.
Martinez’ heart-breaking job is to prevent them from approaching or opening the burners. “It’s very difficult,” the cemetery worker admitted.
According to National Health Institute, more than 2,800 Bogota families have seen their loved ones enter hospitals only to never see them again.