Unused Covid coffins overwhelm undertakers

A collection of coffins in a Lausanne funeral home at the beginning of April Keystone

Many Swiss resorted to panic-buying at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, unsure of what lay ahead. Funeral directors also stocked up – on coffins – and now, because the worst-case scenarios didn’t materialise, they have hundreds of excess caskets on their hands.

This content was published on June 12, 2020 - 16:01

By March coronavirus had already caused thousands of deaths in Italy and undertakers in Switzerland were also preparing for a possible wave of deaths. Since March they have almost doubled their coffin production rate, according to a report in 20 Minuten.

Kurt Dänzer, a funeral director in Fribourg, told Swiss public radio, SRF, that 100 coffins were piled up in the company’s warehouse instead of the usual 60.

Huguenin Burials, which runs a funeral service around Bern and Solothurn, has the same problem. 20 Minuten reported in April that the company had prepared for the pandemic by ordering 400 coffins, saying it obviously hoped they wouldn’t all be needed but it was important to be prepared.

“This is very unusual. Normally we only have about 40 coffins in stock,” said CEO Kevin Huguenin.

Managing these is almost impossible, according to undertaker and coffin maker Beni Hochuli in Bern. “You need a whole gymnasium to store them.”

‘Panic reaction’

Hochuli says that at the beginning of the pandemic he too felt the increased demand for coffins. He believes that some companies bought up hundreds as a panic reaction. “Even back then I found this ‘hamstering’ a bit exaggerated.”

But he stocked up as well, albeit minimally. “I have the advantage of being able to produce the coffins myself in an emergency,” he pointed out.

But he says the pandemic hasn’t had a great impact on his business. “I’ve had to deal with two cases of coronavirus in all. To be honest, I didn’t expect much more than that.”

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