Covid-19 pandemic: Durban report proposes ice rink morgue if needed

A committee has recommended that the eThekwini municipality uses a Durban ice rink should the city run out of mortuary space.
A committee has recommended that the eThekwini municipality uses a Durban ice rink should the city run out of mortuary space.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

Durban is being asked to consider using a local ice rink as a temporary mortuary facility to deal with a projected surge in Covid-19 deaths.

A report submitted by the parks, recreation & culture unit to eThekwini municipality’s community & emergency services committee has recommended that the city “blocks the Durban ice rink with an intention to use it should we run out of mortuary space”.

Greater Durban has been flagged as a hotspot for Covid-19 infections as KwaZulu-Natal records the third-highest number of infections in SA.


The upper projected number of burial sites required in Durban

Madrid in Spain was one of the first cities in the world to turn an ice rink into a temporary morgue as the country struggled to cope with its Covid-19 death toll.

Milton Keynes in the UK began working with the owners of a local ice rink in March to ready the facility in preparation for a surge in Covid-19 deaths.

Ice rinks can be adapted for use as mortuaries faster and more effectively than other buildings.

The Durban Ice Arena on the Golden Mile is on the city’s radar — but the Olive Group, which owns the facility, told the Sunday Times it is unaware of the proposal.

Sastri Ramiah, CEO of the Olive Group, said: “I have not had any request to date from the eThekwini municipality. It would be important and appropriate for them to inform us of their intended plan.”


The number of cemeteries in greater Durban

Nicole Graham, leader of the DA in the eThekwini region, said: “We were made aware that there is the potential of using the ice rink for mortuary purposes if the need should arise.

“Unfortunately it is quite a macabre thing to deal with. No-one likes to think about death, especially not on this scale. However, it is important that there are suitable preparations in place should we see an increase in the death toll.”

The parks, recreation & culture unit report also recommends that the city start preparations for more burial sites because it is not equipped to deal with the projected disaster.


The number of hectares of space for new burials in Johannesburg

“Having observed the devastation of Covid-19 in countries like Ecuador, with decaying bodies in public roads, high death rates in developed countries like the USA, France, Italy and Spain, we as a city must go to great lengths to prepare for the bereavement and aftermath planning,” the report says.

The report warns that Covid-19 is likely to be more “disastrous” than the HIV/Aids pandemic and that the city has a “dire” shortage of mortuary space.

The city has remained silent on the ice rink proposal, but spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said plans are being put in place to address the dire shortage of burial space in Durban.

Mayisela said the city’s strategy to address the shortage of burial space includes reopening cemeteries to look for more grave sites.

“Surveys are being done in all cemeteries with land within the current boundaries. Cemeteries with potential for boundary extension are being identified.”

Mayisela said a “Cemeteries Land Acquisition” report “is to be tabled at the executive committee meeting for adoption as soon as possible”.

Cape Town and Johannesburg did not comment on the possibility of the two cities using ice rinks as mortuaries.

Zahid Badroodien, mayoral committee member for community services & health in Cape Town, said the city does not own or manage any mortuaries, but it is evaluating the capacity of private facilities and “their capability to ramp up to ensure there is sufficient storage capacity across the metropole, should the need arise”.

The City of Johannesburg said it has “adequate burial space to meet any unprecedented demand in the event of widespread fatalities due to Covid-19”.

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