Scotland's funeral directors plan for '24-hour cremations' and 'funeral broadcasts' to deal with potential deaths resulting from coronavirus

Scottish funeral directors are gearing up for round-the-clock cremations to deal with potential deaths resulting from the expected spike in coronavirus cases.

Last night, as the number of cases of Covid-19 confirmed in Scotland rose to 60, with 11 in the Lothian area, it emerged planning for a spike in deaths is well advanced, with provision for ‘funeral by phone’ broadcasts if loved ones are not allowed to attend in person.

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Tim Purves chairman of William Purves, Scotland’s largest independent funeral directors, said: “We’re experienced funeral directors and even in the face of a virus like this we have confidence we can continue our service in the coming months.

Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh. Pic: Jon Savage

“We’ll take our advice from the Scottish Government - if they make the decision that people are not to attend funerals then obviously we have to go along with that.

“We have been told by the crematoriums that they would work much longer hours, they’d work through the night, they’d do 24-hour cremations if they have to.

“So, I don’t think cremations would stop - we would still be taking the deceased to the crematorium.”

He added: “All the crematory have facilities where they would allow families to watch the service on a live stream and they have 28-day recording. It could be the case the family wouldn’t watch it live - they would watch it within 28 days and I’m sure that could be extended if possible. “

Doubling coffin supplies

Mr Purves said his firm are well prepared for an outbreak and doubled their coffin supplies based on modelling that shows one per cent of the ‘at risk’ population of the UK dying which would result in 120,000 deaths.

A City of Edinburgh Council spokesperson said: "The rapidly evolving Coronavirus situation is a worrying and uncertain time for everyone and we are working closely with our partners to make sure Edinburgh is ready however things develop in the coming days, weeks and months.

“Our Bereavement and Registration Services have well-developed pandemic plans in place to manage any rise in the number of deaths above the seasonal norm.

“At Mortonhall Crematorium we have a state-of-the-art live webcasting and 28-day playback facility in both chapels, which will allow families to participate in a service if they are unable to attend in person.”

Meanwhile gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned in Scotland in a bid to limit pressure on frontline emergency services during the coronavirus outbreak as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced it was ‘inappropriate to continue as normal’.

‘Mass gatherings’ should be avoided to ‘remove unnecessary burdens’ on services including police and ambulance workers, the First Minister said yesterday.

‘Many more’ will lose lives

It comes as the UK moved from the ‘contain’ to ‘delay’ phase of dealing with the virus, which has been declared a pandemic by the WHO.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that ‘many more’ would lose their lives and that up to 10,000 people in the UK could already be infected.

He said: “The number of cases will rise sharply, indeed the true number of cases is higher - perhaps much higher - than the number of cases we have so far confirmed with tests.

“It is going to spread further and I must level with you, I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”

There are now 60 confirmed cases in Scotland, with 11 in the NHS Lothian area.

From today, those with symptoms of coronavirus - a cough or high temperature - will be asked to self-isolate at home for seven days.

They should only call their GP or the NHS if their condition gets worse.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The view that the health secretary and I have come to is that there are wider issues to take account of here.

“Mass gatherings require to be policed, they require to have emergency ambulance cover, they require the services of voluntary health services.

“At a time when we need to be reducing the pressures on these frontline workers - in order to free them up to focus on the significant challenge that lies ahead - I do think it’s inappropriate that we continue as normal.”