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SA Undertakers Fear Coffins Will Run Out Covid Third Wave Sweeps

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UNDERTAKERS around the Western Cape say they have seen an increase in burials and are conducting up to 91 Covid-19-related funerals per week.

As the third wave sweeps through the country, undertakers are hoping not to run out of stock as they did during the second wave.

The World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that cases in Africa have increased in the past six weeks, with deaths rising by 15% across 38 African countries to nearly 3000 in the same period.

The WHO said yesterday that the Delta variant was the most contagious and was estimated to be more transmissible, by between 30% to 60% than other variants.

The WHO said the variant was now dominant in South Africa and accounted for more than half of Africa’s cases in the period of the week ending on June 27.

“It is in three of the five countries reporting the highest case loads for the week ending 27 June. And it is dominant in South Africa, which accounted for more than half of Africa’s cases in the same period,” said the WHO.

The co-ordinator of the Undertakers United Front in the Western Cape, Pastor Kenny Mc Dillon, has called on mourners to treat all funerals as Covid-related as they have just ordered extra stock of coffins to prevent running out.

“There has been an increase in Covid-19 funerals and our Christians still want to attend funerals in masses and we all know that funerals are fast spreaders,’’ he said.

“We are finding that people are still being serviced with buses. We are asking that undertakers refrain from supplying families with buses during this period.

“During the second wave, we had a shortage of coffins and now we are advising our suppliers that we get in more stock because if we look at the situation in Gauteng.”

He called for people to ensure the sanitisation of all equipment and people during burials.

“Treat any funeral as if it is Covid-related. The railings inside buses are not sanitised, the handles of coffins when there are pallbearers, are not being sanitised and the spades.

“The gazebos also are not being sanitised, we are asking everyone to sanitise all equipment.”

Sheikh Riad Fataar, the deputy president of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and of the burial administration, said 99% of all mosques had been closed as per level 4 regulations.

He added that three designated sites had been allocated for Covid-19-related burials and the preparation of bodies.

“Since the president spoke, 99% of mosques have responded and we are asking our Muslim community to stay away from religious gatherings and to postpone weddings.

“We have three designated sites for Covid-19 janazas, one in Tafelsig, the Taronga Road Mosque in Crawford and the Husami Masjid in Cravenby.

“We request that all salaah take place in open-air venues as medical professionals have advised us due to the spreading of droplets.”

Father Michael Weeder, the Dean of the St George’s Cathedral, said since the announcement of level 4 regulations, they have been advised to only conduct funerals for no longer than an hour.

“We are holding funerals within the hour. Funerals are live-streamed, with funerals by invitation,” said Father Weeder.

“During this period, there is no ritual of huisbesoek (house visitation), no prayer meetings. People need to realise it has always been serious until your house is burning down and then you need a fireman.”

The chairperson of the Western Cape Muslim Undertakers Forum (WCMUF), Ebrahim Solomons made a nearly seven-minute video a week ago, begging Muslims to adhere to Covid-19 regulations at burials.

“Whenever the president speaks, he makes reference to funerals. I started with five hearses on Saturday and as I stood there, by 12pm, there were eight Covid-19 bodies.

“We are asking people to be responsible; I buried a man aged 44 on Friday. I am on the front line daily; I go into hospitals 10 times a day.

“I purchased a speaker box so that people do not have to get close to each other, but they still move closer to one another, saying they are from one family,” said Solomons.

With 21 000 Covid-19 cases per day, South Africa’s leading scientists have revealed that by June 10; 2826 Covid-19 deaths were recorded among the Muslim community, predominately of Indian or Malay descent, constituting 4.9% of 57 474 recorded Covid-19 deaths nationally.

During the 2020 festive season, cases had reached 17 000 by mid-December and by January figures were at 43 971, twice as much as during the first wave.

On Saturday, June 26, the WCMUF members had recorded up to eight janazas just for the day.

According to Dr Salim Parker from UCT’s division of infectious diseases and HIV medicine, the mortality rate for race groups – Indians had a 35% increased risk of dying from the virus when hospitalised, while black Africans and coloured had a 23% to 24% risk of death due to hospitalisation for Covid-19.

They said this was attributed to religious gatherings such as Eid and burials.

“This heightened risk is independent of other underlying risk factors such as diabetes, which is highly prevalent in people of Indian ancestry compared with whites. Compared with all other race groups, South Africans of Indian ancestry have an 11% increased risk of death following Covid-19 hospitalisation.”

While Dwayne Evans, spokesperson for Red Cross Children’s Hospital, said they had admitted 337 children since the pandemic started who tested positive for the virus.

“Nearly all of these patients were admitted for trauma or other conditions or ailments and the Covid-19 findings were incidental.

“The current admissions are a reflection of what’s happening in the community and is still within the proportions of the previous waves,” said Evans.