Mexico’s crematories running all-out as Covid-19 peak looms

By Miquel Muñoz and Eduard Ribas Admetlla

Mexico City, May 1 (efe-epa).- Crematories in this capital are at the limits of their capacity with more than a week to go before the forecast peak of the coronavirus outbreak in Mexico, people in the funeral industry told Efe Friday.

The Mexican government said that it expects the number of new Covid-19 cases to reach a plateau by May 10, while the final death toll is projected to be around 8,000.

The virus has claimed 1,859 lives in the Aztec nation to date and the number of confirmed infections stands at 19,224. Greater Mexico City, which is home to 20 million people, has seen 328 fatalities and 4,152 cases.

“We are already experiencing (the peak) in Mexico City. The available crematories are reaching 100 percent of their capacity today,” the vice president of the National Association of Funeral Directors (ANDF), Roberto Garcia, said in a telephone interview with Efe.

Though he ruled out a collapse of the system, he warned that it “will take a lot of work” to enable the capital’s crematories and cemeteries to meet the challenge.

The main hot spot in Mexico City is the crowded, working-class borough of Iztapalapa, where the publicly owned San Nicolas crematory has gone from handling five bodies a day to nearly 20.

It takes three hours to burn a body.

“There is more work. You have to move quickly,” says crematory employee Sacramento, who must don protective clothing when he handles the body of a Covid-19 victim.

Manuel Ramirez, director of the J. Garcia Lopez funeral home chain, said that the firm’s eight crematories are dealing with 25 bodies a day.

“If we get to 30, we will be in a difficult situation,” he told Efe.

The Mexican government recommends cremation as the best choice for coronavirus fatalities, but with the crematories under pressure, burial has emerged as an alternative.

Authorities have prohibited transporting bodies from Mexico City to other parts of the country for burial, which means more room must be found in the capital’s cemeteries.

“The official cemeteries, which belong to the government, are already opening more space,” the ANDF’s Garcia said, likening the current situation to the aftermath of the 1985 earthquake that left anywhere from 5,000 to 45,000 people dead in Mexico City.

The pandemic has forced radical changes to funerary traditions in a country known for its unique, deeply engrained psychological relationship with death.

At the municipal cemetery in Iztapalapa, attendance at funerals is limited to 15 people, while only a single mourner is permitted when the dearly departed perished from Covid-19.

Brenda, who has come to bid farewell to an uncle who died of a heart attack, dismissed the rules as “idiocies.” And Efe witnessed security personnel at the cemetery taking bribes to allow larger numbers of mourners – and even mariachi bands – to enter the grounds.

The official guidance permits as many as 20 people to gather for wakes lasting up to four hours.

“With the quarantine, people die in isolation. We have to break the chain of solitude and let the families say goodbye, respecting a safe distance,” Manuel Ramirez said.

But another of Mexico’s large funeral home chains, Grupo Gayosso, takes the opposite approach, according to operations director Alejandro Sosa, who said the firm halted in-person wakes and viewings “from the start of the emergency.”

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