Two-week ban on burials not going down well with industry concerned about storageTuesday, March 02, 2021
BY KASEY WILLIAMS
MANDEVILLE, Manchester — The two-week ban on burials imposed by the Government as it struggles to arrest a worrying spike in positive COVID-19 cases has drawn howls of protest from funeral directors fearful that they will run out of space to store bodies.
At the same time, some funeral home operators say they can't blame the Administration, as too many Jamaicans are still flouting the regulation relating to crowd size at funerals.
On Sunday, after Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced the March 8 to 22 halt to funerals and burials, president of the Jamaica Association of Certified Embalmers and Funeral Directors Calvin Lyn called on the Government to review the measure.
“They will have to allow some burial, with further restrictions, but we say to the Government, review it for the two weeks,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
“They have to allow burials with the restriction of the attendees, because you can't have bodies piled up, especially COVID cases. We need to bury as quickly as possible,” said Lyn.
In the 24 hours leading to the time Holness spoke at a virtual news conference at Jamaica House, the island had recorded 446 new positive COVID-19 cases, bringing to 23,263 the total number of people recorded who had contracted the virus since March 10, 2020 when the first case was reported here. Since then, 13,410 patients have recovered, and 422 have died.
“We have to take this drastic action because we do not see any willingness on the part of our brothers and sisters — not everyone, because some people do comply — but we are seeing a significant level of non-compliance in this area,” Holness said on Sunday.
Funerals and burials, he said, will only be allowed up to March 7, with 15 people including the clergy.
Following the two-week ban there will be a review of the measure.
Lyn, who is funeral director at Lyn's Funeral Home, and operator of Oaklawn Memorial Gardens cemetery on the outskirts of Mandeville, pointed to mourners' general disregard for the safety protocols.
“The situation was brought about because of the disobedience of the same bereaved relatives who are crowding up funerals, based on information we have from the police. But when it comes to the extra keeping [of bodies], the funeral home operators will have to use their discretion and give allowance to the relatives,” said Lyn.
“It has to come with a compromise, because it is not really the fault of them or the funeral home. The Government's rules [are] based on the increased COVID-19 cases. From that perspective, when it comes on to cost, I know it is inconvenient,” he added.
Some established funeral homes are said to have enough space to store bodies.
“The members of my association, I know we would have enough storage to keep the bodies. We [Lyn's Funeral home] are able to store up to 200 [bodies],” he stressed.
However, Michael Jones, managing director of Jones Funeral Home and Supplies located in the Corporate Area, told the Observer yesterday that the order from the Cabinet will result in “chaos”.
“You have persons who already have their burial order for between March 8 and 22; they have the funeral planned; people coming from overseas have already booked their tickets, and now they hear the Government say it can't work. That is madness,” said Jones.
“If they are going to stop burials you will find that the morgues are going to be overwhelmed with bodies piling up. It is going to cause chaos,” he added.
He analogised burials to bars, which have been allowed to remain open.
“Let us put them under the ground. If bars can remain open, why can't the cemeteries remain open with the restriction of the 10 people? It can happen,” Jones insisted.
He argued that the ban will also lead to increased costs for private funeral operators who do not have storage capacity and pay anywhere from $2,000 and $5,000 each day to other funeral homes to store bodies.
“With the bodies already piling up from murders and accidents we will not have space to keep them. The bodies must go under the earth,” added Jones.
Christopher Lyew, director of Lee's Funeral Home in Red Hills, St Andrew, was equally displeased with the measure.
“I think it's crazy. I think they need to review it, because it's gonna cause a lot of problems. You're gonna have two weeks of just receiving the human remains and not being able to send them out. As it is right now, the Government-contracted funeral homes are overrun, so what will happen in two weeks' time?” he asked.
Another funeral director in deep rural eastern Jamaica, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he will have to “double up” bodies — placing two in a space in the freezer normally allocated for one — due to a shortage of space.
“It rough, because this wasn't in my thoughts at all for right now. I am running out of storage space right now. There are 50-odd bodies in our morgue right now and I have space for 60. We are going to have to double them up,” he said.
However, he agrees with the Government's decision in light of what he said was blatant disregard of the protocols at funerals.
“Nobody not complying with the rules at funerals here. Foreign alone a comply with the rules. We out here weh go funeral, nobody nah wear nuh mask, so Holness have the right to say it. Sometimes mi go funeral and it well pack,” he stressed.
“Thankfully it is not for a month. People need to take the thing seriously, because dem nah comply with the rule, so the Government has to take action,” he added.
He said there was a pile-up of bodies due to relatives wanting to bury their dead only after being able to come from overseas, where many are currently stranded.
“We have bodies in our morgue from last year, from November, weh cyaan bury all now. Most of them, the relatives stuck in England and other countries, so dem haffi wait till the system free up,” he said.
“We not going to 'kill' the families with high prices for storage. My morgue has a solar system, so it does not cost me a lot. Is not the families' fault for the bodies to still be here, it's because of the pandemic,” he said.
Paul Patmore, funeral director at Patmore's Funeral Home in Lowe River, Trelawny, also pointed to recalcitrance at funerals.
“It's just because of the indiscipline of the people, enuh. He [Holness] had to make a decision, so we really have to support what he is trying. Most of the times when you tell people 10 [mourners], you have over 200 people turn up, so the Government had no choice,” he said.
He told the Observer that his funeral home has “unlimited storage”.
“As businesspeople it is our responsibility to create space, so in a pandemic it is something that we were looking for the past three months. From we started seeing the rise in cases, we were expecting a lockdown of the country for two weeks. We just hear that it's just for funerals, so we have to give thanks, because it could have been worse,” he said.
“We have quite a few persons who can't come in from Canada and England, so we are still waiting on relatives to be freed up to bury their dead. I don't think the two weeks going to affect us that much… We have unlimited storage,” he declared, adding that there will be no change in storage fees.
“Whether the body is here for one day or even three months it is the same cost. We don't change our prices,” he said.
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