Undertakers spend R3 million a week on PPE

The country's undertakers are being swamped by a flood of Covid-19 deaths, which means they not only have to shell out more for storage and special burial supplies, but PPE for workers as well.

An estimated R3 million per week is what the funeral industry now has to spend on additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and extra safety measures, while the industry is inundated with funerals.

Funeral homes and undertakers had to expand their usual PPE to include overalls and respirators, in line with safety measures imposed by the Disaster Management Act on handling bodies during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This, however, means more PPE would have to be used from the time of collecting the deceased from the hospital to when they are laid to rest at the cemetery, says SA Funeral Practitioners Association.

“From the time of pick up, two personnel are sent – the driver and the assistance. That is two sets of PPE already being used.

Once the deceased is removed from the hospital, the PPE needs to be disposed of in the red-liner bags. After [the two personnel] get to our mortuary facility, they need to get into a new set of PPE.

“The day of the funeral, we also need to wear PPE which is done by two people. And when we get to the cemetery, all the cemetery set-up staff need to be in PPE. So, it is about six people with six drivers that all need to be in full PPE,” explains the association’s spokesperson Monageng Legae.

As CEO of Sopema Funerals, he said he had to spend an additional R24,000 per month on PPE, as the prices have been highly inflated since the commencement of the lockdown. Overalls they used to purchase for R30 now cost R100, he says.

“We are asking government to give us preferential procurement. Where you get PPEs, send us to those people. The people we are getting it from are profiting from this pandemic,” pleaded Legae.

According to Legae, the total weekly expenditure of the SA Funeral Practitioners Association’s members amounted to approximately R3 million every week, in addition to other expenses which have also increased.

Besides the cost of PPE, the handling of a Covid-19 body also requires the body to be wrapped in three different bags before heading for the mortuary, says Avbob Gauteng’s area manager for funeral services Vusi Dladla.

“Two are non-transparent and the third one is a white one. We wrap the body and tag it with the person’s details and the hospital they came from. Then we store the body. On the day of the funeral, the family will have their service wherever and when they go to the cemetery, we leave here with the body to the cemetery in a coffin that is wrapped and sealed,” he explains.

Dladla spoke to The Citizen at Avbob’s Midrand branch, where one of their 11 mobile container mortuaries were stationed in preparation of a possible increase in Covid-19 fatalities.

The mobile containers, which could take up 30 bodies including coffins, were manufactured in Bloemfontein and distributed to areas which might need them, such as the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and Limpopo.

In Gauteng, they were distributed to Midrand, Springs, and Auckland Park in Johannesburg. The mobile mortuaries in Midrand had, however, not yet been used.

These items are all additional, yet absolutely necessary costs to the business, said Avbob Mutual Assurance Society spokesperson Mabore Sefara.

“We have to incur additional expenses to procure suitable PPE, sanitisers, etc. But these items are of course a necessity and not a luxury. It has most definitely had an effect on the cost of doing business… The effect of the pandemic on profits would probably only be accurately determined towards the end of 2020/21 financial year,” she said.

The industry faced further financial strain due to death certificates not being issued on time, resorting to families requesting to pay after the funeral, as they did not yet have all the documents to claim from insurance policies, Legae explained.

“We end up signing acknowledgements of debts that after the funeral, the family will then pay us. It is a strain. We were never prepared… Now we have to procure additional coffins and additional resources to make sure that we deal with the influx that is coming. We are actually now burying from Monday to Monday. There is no rest for our employees. They are inundated with the number of funerals coming in.”

  • rorisangk@citizen.co.za

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