South Africa converts shipping containers into morgues

South Africa converts shipping containers into makeshift morgues as nation struggles to bury Covid dead but restrictions are eased as cases drop despite mutant variant that is terrifying the world being rife there

  • AVBOB distributed 22 refrigerated shipping containers to its funeral homes 
  • Coffins marked ‘highly contagious’ line the inside of the shipping containers 
  • A more infectious variant known as 501Y.V2 has become South Africa’s dominant
  • But cases have started to fall and tough restrictions are gradually being eased

Shipping containers have been converted into overflow morgues for the dead in South Africa, where a mutant variant of coronavirus has driven a second spike.  

As mortuaries reached capacity, the country’s largest undertakers, AVBOB, distributed 22 refrigerated shipping containers to its funeral homes.  

Coffins marked ‘highly contagious’ line the inside of the containers, where AVBOB employees work in protective Hazmat suits. 

A more infectious variant of Covid-19 known as 501Y.V2 has become South Africa’s dominant strain and has spurred a resurgence of the virus since the first peak last year.

The new variant has caused concern globally and spooked some governments into imposing hard border measures on South African arrivals.

But cases inside the nation have started to fall and restrictions are gradually being eased – sales of alcohol have resumed, the nighttime curfew has been reduced and public parks and beaches have been allowed to reopen. 

Shipping containers have been converted into overflow morgues for the dead in South Africa, where a mutant variant of coronavirus has driven a second spike 

But cases inside the nation have started to fall and restrictions are gradually being eased – sales of alcohol have resumed. Pictured: Customers enjoy wine and food in Bottega Cafe, in Parkhurst, Johannesburg

Coffins marked ‘highly contagious’ line the inside of the containers, where AVBOB employees work in protective Hazmat suits 

South Africa has had more than 1.4million confirmed cases, including 44,399 deaths, representing more than 40 per cent of all cases reported across the African continent of 1.3billion people. 

As AVBOB marshalled shipping containers to store the dead, marketing manager Marius de Plessis said: ‘If you compare the number of funerals that we are dealing with currently as compared to the same time last year, for example, there’s been a significant increase.’ 

South Africa is working to launch its vaccination campaign in mid-February after its first delivery of vaccines on Monday: 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India. An additional 500,000 are coming later in February.

South Africa will use the doses to inoculate its frontline healthcare workers as the country aims to vaccinate 67 per cent of its 60million people by the end of the year. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa said more vaccine doses will arrive in the coming months from the global COVAX facility, the African Union’s vaccine acquisition task team and direct purchases from manufacturers.

Empty coffins are stored at an AVBOB mortuary in Johannesburg today

Crosses for use at funerals are stored at an AVBOB mortuary in Johannesburg after morgues reached capacity

People lay in the sun on Clifton beach in Cape Town, South Africa. On Monday President Cyril Ramaphosa lifted the ban on alcohol sales, shortened the time of the curfew, eased some restrictions on gatherings and reopened beaches

Many African countries will get vaccines from the AU initiative, which has sourced 600million doses through COVAX and acquired another 400 million from manufacturers including AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, Ramaphosa said Monday night.

Neighboring Zimbabwe will be among the first countries to receive China’s COVID-19 vaccine, the country’s ambassador said Tuesday, as the southern African country reels from a deadly resurgence of the coronavirus.

‘Zimbabwe will be one of the first 14 countries to receive vaccine aid from China very soon,’ Ambassador Guo Shaochun tweeted, citing a statement from his country´s foreign affairs ministry. Neither statement said how many doses would be delivered, when they would arrive or whether they will be free of charge.

Other African countries to get China’s vaccine include Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone, according to the statement.

Clients enjoy a beer, in ‘Hells Kitchen Bar and Restaurant’ in Melville, Johannesburg

Cars caught in a traffic jam during the afternoon commuting time in Johannesburg, South Africa

Zimbabwe has not yet ordered any vaccines. A top Zimbabwean official recently said the government had budgeted $100million to buy around 20 million doses. 

That would be enough to inoculate about 60 per cent of Zimbabwe’s 15million people to achieve herd immunity, finance ministry permanent secretary George Guvamatanga told state media.

The vaccines would be acquired through the AU initiative, the Sunday Mail newspaper reported. The ministry is waiting for regulators to give authorization ‘before placing a concrete order,’ Guvamatanga said.

There are fears that the new, more infectious variant of the virus arrived when scores of thousands of Zimbabweans living in South Africa returned home for the holiday season.

The country, whose once robust public health system has deteriorated along with the economy over the past two decades, has confirmed 33,548 cases, including 1,234 deaths.

A liquor store owner prepares to re-open his shop in Johannesburg as restriction were eased

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