Geneva funeral services at full stretch as Covid deaths rise

Places in the cold rooms of some cemeteries are full in Geneva. © Keystone / Salvatore Di Nolfi

Geneva’s funeral service is struggling to cope with a sharp rise in coronavirus-related deaths. Capacities in some other French-speaking parts of Switzerland are also at their limit. 

This content was published on November 17, 2020 - 12:02

Geneva city’s funeral services are currently carrying out 18 cremations a day, which is maximum capacity, according to a municipal spokeswoman. What’s more, it is currently taking about ten days between time of death and the funeral compared with the usual four or five days. 

Places in the cold rooms of the Saint-Georges and des Rois cemeteries are all occupied, and bodies have had to be transferred to the mortuary of the Geneva University Hospital (HUG). 

Jean Murith, head of private funeral firm Murith SA, confirms the exceptional situation in canton Geneva. “Fifty years in the business and I’ve never seen anything like it,” he told the Keystone-SDA news agency. 

Geneva is one of the regions hardest hit in Europe by the second wave of the pandemic. It has had to transfer some Covid patients to hospitals in German-speaking parts of Switzerland, and now the death rate is also climbing. 

According to Murith, mortality is currently doubling. His company has gone from three to seven funeral services a day, and he says the proportion of the deceased infected by Covid-19 is about 70%.  

Fribourg and Jura 

The pandemic is putting pressure on undertakers elsewhere too. “We’ve been facing an increase in Covid-19 and non-Covid deaths for the past two to three weeks,” said Jérôme Voisard, a funeral director in canton Jura. But the situation remains under control, he adds. “Our staff is working on a just-in-time basis, working very long days.”  

The St-Léonard crematorium in Fribourg, the only private crematorium in Switzerland, is not currently overwhelmed, but activity is increasing sharply.  

“We’re working non-stop 21 hours a day, with two ovens, and even on Saturdays and Sundays,” said manager Jean-Robert Krebs. The crematorium has refused requests from other cantons, saying it wants to be able to continue cremating bodies within 24 hours after arrival. 

Canton Fribourg is considering using an ice rink as a mortuary for storing bodies if necessary, says Swiss public radio, SRF, and there are similar plans in cantons Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva. 

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