Monday, May 4, 2009

Inflatable mortuaries and 'express' funerals planned for flu pandemic

Inflatable mortuaries and 'express' funerals planned for flu pandemic

Inflatable mortuaries, 24-hour cremations and "express" funerals could all be used to dispose of thousands of bodies in a flu pandemic, Whitehall papers show.

By James Kirkup

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In the worst-case scenario, the bodies of the dead could also be stored in refrigerator trucks. Coffins would be reused to cope with the huge numbers of fatalities.

Department of Health projections put the total UK death toll from a pandemic as high as 750,000. It was confirmed in 2006 that officials have ordered millions of extra body

A Home Office contingency planning document seen by the Daily Telegraph reveals the extreme measures that would be required to cope with the sheer number of extra corpses that are expected.

The 59-page report, "Planning for Possible Influenza Pandemic: A Framework for Planners Preparing to Manage Deaths" has been circulated to local councils, coroners and undertakers.

In the event if a mass-casualty pandemic, one of the biggest problems for planners is where to store the bodies when normal mortuaries become full.

Among the possible planning options set out the document is: "Inflatable Storage Structures, these come in various designs and can be customised and deployed to a range of terrains."

Shipping containers normally used at ports and freight terminals could also be used, the paper says, adding that: "These are likely to require shrouding, body racking and power generators."

Under normal circumstances, planners have been ordered not to store bodies in the chilled trucks normally used to transport slaughtered animals and frozen food.

But the paper concedes: "Non-use of refrigerated vehicles and trailers may become unsustainable during a pandemic.

"All options should feature in local plans – albeit some being backup or last resort options."

Funeral services for the dead would also pose a major challenge, and undertakers are put on notice to prepare for a huge extra workload during a pandemic.

Several measures are suggested in order to speed up funeral services.

Among the plans:

:: "Limited choice of types and sizes of coffins are offered to ensure manufacturers can supply to demand."

:: "Those arranging funerals are asked for basic and shorter services at the chapel – or for memorial services to be held at other venues (e.g. the home or place of worship)."

:: "Working hours are increased and businesses moving to seven-day week operation."

The plan envisages only around 30 per cent of Britain's dead are buried, with most people opting for cremation.

Crematoria have also been put on notice to prepare for a pandemic and consider moving toward "24/7 working."

The document discloses: "The Government may consider whether reuse of coffins (for cremation only) was an option they want to pursue."


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