UK turns to emergency mortuary amid overwhelming surge in Covid-19 cases and fatalities

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As the nation’s hospitals begin to run out of beds and morgues reach capacity amid a continued spike in Covid-19 cases and fatalities, authorities in the UK have been forced to turn to a temporary mortuary in a Surrey woodland.

Around 170 bodies are currently being stored at the site in Leatherhead, England, although only half of those kept at the temporary mortuary are believed to have died from Covid-19. The site, set up during the first wave of the virus in the UK, has capacity to accommodate 800 bodies – extra space which will be required now that the county’s hospital mortuary has hit its limit.

While the emergency set-up is helping to alleviate the situation, a spokesperson for the Surrey Local Resilience Forum warned that the region could still be in “real difficulty” in a few weeks, as projections show they risk exceeding their maximum 1,400 capacity. 

The situation is at risk of being replicated across the UK, with health experts having warned that the National Health Service is facing a major crisis and is close to being overwhelmed by the pandemic. 

At the weekend, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty warned that “hospitals won’t have room to take redirected emergency cases… staff-to-patient ratios, which are already stretched, will become unacceptable even in places like intensive care. There will be avoidable deaths.”

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The number of coronavirus cases and admissions to hospital has hit a record high in England, with over 417,570 people having tested positive in the past seven days. Over the weekend of January 9 and 10, the UK surpassed the grim milestone of 80,000 fatalities from the virus, with the situation expected to continue to deteriorate until the impact of the vaccine rollout is felt.

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