Hong Kong has further expanded its capacity at public mortuaries, as well as for body identification and cremation, to cope with an accumulating number of corpses. The city has recorded more than 7,200 deaths during its fifth wave of Covid-19.
Public mortuaries managed by the Department of Health have been faced with a “multi-fold increase” in the number of bodies they receive, Director of Health Ronald Lam said during Monday’s Covid-19 press briefing.
“We fully understand the stress and sadness faced by the family members of those who passed, and we know they would very much like to collect their families’ bodies as soon as possible for after-death arrangements,” Lam said.
People who pass away in Hospital Authority emergency rooms before they could be admitted to wards, and those who died outside of public hospitals, are sent to public mortuaries. The bodies of those who die after being admitted to a ward will be sent to the hospital morgue.
The department has increased its capacity for storing bodies to 4,600 up from 506 permanent compartments at its three public mortuaries, Lam said.
Prior to the fifth wave, public mortuaries offered a maximum of 1,070 compartments, including the reopened Kowloon Public Mortuary and all mobile units available, according to Legislative Council documents.
The government added 61 refrigerating containers at the Fu Shan Public Mortuary, adding 2,700 compartments for the storage of corpses. It currently has over 1,800 bodies in storage, Lam said.
The Kowloon facility was earlier added with 20 containers that could store up to 240 bodies, Lam said. A phase of the new Fu Shan Public Mortuary – which was under construction – has been handed over to the government earlier than scheduled, adding another 500 compartments. The government also borrowed 95 compartments from facilities operated by charities.
The process for body identification will also be sped up, Lam said, so the department could process some 200 bodies a day, up from a few dozen previously. “We strive to finish all these cases in the shortest time possible,” he said.
Identification and cremation of bodies
“The DH’s Forensic Pathology Service have arranged additional timeslots on Saturdays for body identification for all its public mortuaries, while the Kowloon Public Mortuary also provided such service on Sunday mornings in the past few weeks,” Lam said in a statement on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department ramped up its manpower to work 24-hours to handle bodies sent from mortuaries for cremation.
The city’s six cremation facilities now offer about 300 time slots to the public, up from 130 to 140 previously, operating close to 24 hours a day, said FEHD chief, Irene Young.
Family members of those who passed away need to first apply for a death certificate from the Immigration Department. They are then to obtain a cremation permit from the Department of Health and make a cremation booking with the FEHD, Young said. The offices have extended their service hours by operating full-day on Saturdays, instead of just half a day.
Hong Kong has recorded 1,136,192 Covid-19 cases and 7,420 deaths since the start of the pandemic.