Covid-19-proof funeral directors

Faced with the explosion in the number of deaths linked to Covid-19 during a very virulent third wave in Portugal, the funeral directors are on the verge of collapse. They are redoubling their vigilance in terms of health security.

New call: Artur Palma, manager of the Velhinho funeral directors located in Amadora in the western suburbs of Lisbon, picks up. At the end of the line, a nearby retirement home where one of the residents has just been swept away by the Covid-19.

Without delay, his employee José Santos equips himself by following the new health rules to the letter in order to avoid any contagion: full protective suit, gloves and surgical mask are on the journey.

According to data collected by AFP, Portugal is currently the hardest hit country in the world by Covid-19, in proportion to its population of 10 million.

The balance sheet of the pandemic thus amounts to more than 12,000 deaths, nearly half of which since the start of the year, while the country was subjected on January 15 to a second general containment.

Travel to retirement homes because of the coronavirus, the Velhinho company currently makes between three and four per week. The number of deceased taken care of has tripled compared to the month of January last year, details José Santos at the wheel of the hearse.

Gas masks

On site, the body of the deceased is placed in a body bag before being transported on a stretcher and placed in the agency vehicle.

‘It must really happen like that now, with the safety and hygiene measures, now we are heading to our facilities to do everything else,’ blows the 62-year-old man.

At the agency, the preparation phase continues in a converted garage, surrounded by piles of new ornate wooden coffins. Artur Palma and José Santos complete their equipment by adding medical shoe covers, protective glasses, gowns and gas masks.

‘We must absolutely respect this protective equipment, I put on three pairs of gloves, they are made for high risks,’ explains Artur Palma.

When putting people who died of Covid-19 into beer, the two men first remove the cover of the coffin to reveal the body wrapped in a shroud. No care is given because of the risk of contagion but instead everything is sprayed with disinfectant.

‘Real chaos’

Then comes the sealing step. Here again, hygiene measures are reinforced. After closing the coffin, they cover the joints with a long strip of adhesive tape and then surround it with several layers of cellophane. The deceased then joined the cold room where all the space is occupied by victims of Covid-19.

‘It’s a real chaos, there are so many deaths, we don’t have places to store so much, everything is overloaded. With Covid-19, I have already lost my aunt, my cousin, my father and my grandfather ‘, deplores Artur Palma.

At Velhinho, they are only four to cope with the influx of deaths in recent weeks. ‘It’s very complicated and you can feel it at home with our families, luckily they are there to provide us with support,’ says José Santos, smoking his cigarette.

‘It’s a huge burden at all levels, physical, psychological, we sleep little, we reach our limit and we reach a breaking point,’ says Artur Palma.



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