In the event of an exponential spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic in the eThekwini Municipality, the city has recommended in a report that the Durban ice rink be converted into a mortuary.
Picture: Jacques Naude
In the event of an exponential spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic in the eThekwini Municipality, the city has recommended in a report that the Durban ice rink be converted into a mortuary. Picture: Jacques Naude

eThekwini proposes converting Durban ice rink into mortuary

By Kailene Pillay Time of article published May 5, 2020

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Durban - In the event of an exponential spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic in the eThekwini Municipality, the City has recommended in a report that the Durban ice rink be converted into a mortuary.

However, the Olive Group, which owns the ice rink, said they had not been made aware of this proposal and would need to consult the municipality.

Chief executive of the Olive Group, Sastri Ramiah, said the refrigeration plant for the ice rink had been switched off since the start of the lockdown and would need to be started up again well in advance, if it was to be used.

In the report to the Community and Emergency Services Committee, the City outlined its plan to ensure its state of readiness in the event of a surge in infections and or deaths caused by the virus.

One of the recommendations included that “the City blocks the Durban Ice Rink with an intention to use it should we run out of mortuary space”.

Although the national lockdown has seen a significant effect on the country’s attempt to flatten the curve, the worst is still expected to come.

Based on Professor Salim Abdool Karim’s presentation on “SA’s Covid-19 epidemic: Trends and Next Steps”, the lockdown has only bought the country time to prepare for the exponential spread of the virus.

The City’s stage 7 plan included acquiring land that would be used for between 8 000 and 16 000 grave sites and the use of the ice rink as a mortuary.

The report stated that Karim’s presentation highlighted numerous significant points that have far-reaching implications for the City in general and the demand for burial space in particular.

“The hardest-hit areas in the country would be the three metropolitan areas, which include our city. Having observed the devastation of Covid-19 in countries like Ecuador, with decaying bodies in public roads, the high death rate in developed countries like the US, France, Italy and Spain, we as a city must go at great lengths to prepare for stage 7 as outlined,” read the report.

At present, the city has no burial space available. Out of 66 cemeteries, 57 have been closed because no grave sites are available. On average, about 18 500 people are buried every year in Durban in the few family sites that are available in nine city cemeteries.

Furthermore, the city has six crematoria – four of which are privately owned – and together cremate 49 bodies a day. Now, the City has identified City-owned and privately-owned pieces of land that could be turned into cemeteries. According to the report, the City has already engaged with relevant authorities in provincial government departments and the provincial command council on Covid-19 to expedite the process of conducting the geo-technical and environmental assessments on the land that would usually take 10 months to complete.

The burial space in Durban was impacted by two major historical episodes including the 1980s political violence and the HIV/Aids epidemic during which more than 10 000 people died, the report stated. With Durban being one of the fastest-growing cities in the world at that time, the massive urbanisation also contributed to the shortage of land as most of the available land was earmarked for housing.

Currently, the city’s population stands at 3.8 million.

In the city’s 66 cemeteries, 550 000 grave sites are being used to cater for the remains of 1.5 million people. This means that on average, there are three people buried in each grave site.

“Clearly the situation as it is will not be able to cope with the projected disaster once stage 7 hits us, given that at the height of the HIV/Aids pandemic, the rate of demand for burial space in our city was 4 000 grave sites a month. Noting that Covid-19 is likely to be more disastrous than HIV/Aids, we will need a minimum of 8 000 and a maximum of 16 000 burial sites,” the report said.

The Mercury

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