'We hope we will never need it' Temporary morgue being built in Scottish city
A temporary storage facility to hold the bodies of up to 100 victims of the coronavirus pandemic in Edinburgh is expected to be completed today.
Details of the unit were confirmed to the Evening News hours after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed there were 45 new confirmed cases of people with coronavirus in the NHS Lothian area, as the death toll in Scotland increased to 126.
Work crews began erecting the structure at Mortonhall Crematorium at the start of this week.
Once ready, it will increase storage capacity at the mortuary from 12 spaces to 112.
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At Cowgate, a smaller, temporary unit capable of providing 12 additional spaces - taking total capacity to 100 - is in place and can be deployed rapidly if it is required.
Senior council sources insist they are planning for the worst case scenario while hoping that the additional storage for the deceased is not needed, describing the decision as a “contingency”.
A number of top-level officials and senior councillors have been involved in the decision which has been reached “with care, dignity, security and safety in mind”.
Officials also worked closely with NHS Lothian, faith groups, bereavement support organisations and funeral directors. They plan to keep families of those who pass away fully informed of any arrangements for their loved ones adding that local funeral directors and NHS Lothian have their own storage space arrangements.
Council Leader Adam McVey said: “At this moment of national emergency, in common with other local authorities, we need to take additional action to prepare for the challenges we may face in future.
“For this reason, we have taken the difficult decision to put in place additional temporary facilities at Mortonhall Crematorium in the event there are a higher number of deaths than our existing facilities can cope with.”
Cllr McVey added: “Our shared ambition must be that we do not need to use them.”
Across the UK, coronavirus has risen by 569, taking the total to 2,921.
In Scotland the number of fatalities is a rise of 50 from 76, although Ms Nicola Sturgeon said the total includes 40 deaths that “should be distributed over a number of days” as they had “not previously been notified due to delays in family liaison”.
Official statistics show 2,602 people have now tested positive for the virus in Scotland, up 292 on the previous day.
Ms Sturgeon said 162 people are in intensive care with Covid-19, up 15 from Wednesday’s figure.
She added a new reporting system will be put in place, meaning the daily figure of confirmed deaths will not rely solely on health boards but will also include data from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) death registration process.
As of next week, NRS will also begin to report on deaths when Covid-19 is mentioned on death certificates.
The First Minister said the Scottish Government is trying to be as “transparent as possible”.
She said: “People should be absolutely certain in one thing, I want to be as transparent around this as I possibly can be.
“It is in everybody’s interests that is the case because I am relying on people across the country doing the right thing.”
She also said there have been “significant” steps taken to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to health workers.
Health Protection Scotland (HPS) will also be issuing new guidance on how PPE is distributed, she added.
Ms Sturgeon was also clear on what testing “can and cannot achieve”.
Current tests, she said, can identify cases of Covid-19 but will be unable to detect the virus in the incubation period or if someone has previously had it.
The Scottish and UK Governments are working on a more thorough antibody test, she said.
While, 3,400 NHS staff and their families have been tested to date, Ms Sturgeon said simply testing key workers and their families would not mean they would be able to go back to work, as many tests would simply confirm they had the virus.
Chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said compliance with lockdown measures could mean they are lifted in three months.
She said: “What we do know from the scientific evidence is that if people are stringently obeying these new rules, these very difficult rules..we are then able to slow the spread of this transmission.
“The more we comply, the better that those measures are going to reduce the transmission of the virus and that length of time, at least 13 weeks, we would be able to lift some of those measures potentially after that three month period.” There should be a “concerted effort” to reduce the number of people detained in prisons and other facilities during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a group of watchdogs.
Scotland’s prisons also face a massive challenge with reports of up to 25 per cent of staff not working due to social isolation.
The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) had already halted visits and has not ended education, gym and workship sessions for inmates.
And members of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), a group of 21 bodies that have powers to inspect or monitor places of detention, have written to the Justice Secretary.
They urged Humza Yousaf to ensure the rights of detained people are protected during the Covid-19 epidemic.
The impossibility of social distancing in prisons puts both staff and inmates at increased risk of infection, the letter said.
Signatories include the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland and the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland.
They recommend a number of steps including extra support for staff, ensuring detainees receive appropriate healthcare and setting up video systems such as Skype to allow families to keep in touch.
The letter said: “A concerted effort should be made to reduce the detained populations to mitigate the inherent risk of maintaining people in close confinement.
“This is particularly important for detainees with underlying health conditions, remanded population, children and those in other vulnerable categories,”