The capacity crunch

Temporary mortuaries

April’s sharp rise in deaths led to emergency planning on a national scale, with temporary mortuaries springing up around the country…

On 20 April, the Government announced plans to provide an extra 30,000 temporary mortuary places during the coronavirus pandemic. Ministers said the move was a precaution rather than a prediction, but the expansion almost doubled the capacity in the UK. Before then, 18,000 public mortuary places were available around the country, with a similar number provided by funeral directors.

The number of dead in London in the first week of April was up 160% on the average for previous years; in Birmingham, the number of deaths in the first two weeks of April exceeded the total for the whole of April 2019.

As crematoria carry out a finite number of cremations in a day, a capacity crunch developed in harder-hit parts of the country, so councils across the UK acted quickly to acquire more sites.

Existing hospital mortuaries were expanded and councils up and down the country commandeered ice rinks and public spaces in a bid to offer dignity during the crisis.

Some councils worked in tandem with others. Lancashire County Council teamed with Blackpool Council while Blackburn worked with Darwen and three councils in Ayrshire joined forces to create larger sites. Airport facilities and warehouses were pressed into action, with companies from Portakabin to BAE Systems stepping forward to help.

The map below illustrates some of the largest developments across the UK.

Mortuaries across the UK
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