UK Casket Companies Encouraged to Increase Production Due to H1N1?
The funeral industry believes the number of coffins being made could be increased by 150 per cent were more Britons to fall victim to the pandemic.
Most recent figures show there have been 142 deaths linked to the H1N1 virus in England, with an estimated 53,000 new cases in the past week week and 783 people in hospital suffering severe symptoms.
Pregnant women and NHS workers are being immunised against the disease and under-fives may soon be added to the mass vaccination programme as they are particularly vulnerable and prone to spreading it.
Health experts originally estimated that as many as 65,000 people could succumb to swine flu in the ?worst-case scenario? but that figure was reduced to 19,000 in September.
However Whitehall officials have drawn up detailed plans of how the country would cope with large numbers of dead.
A Home Office document raises the prospect of mass graves being dug in inner-city areas where there could be insufficient cemetery plots.
Crematoria could have to run seven days a week to keep up with demand while funeral services might be shortened.
In its latest newsletter, the Association of Burial Authorities discloses that the Government has asked coffin makers to calculate their spare capacity.
It states: ?The Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities recognises that there will be a shortage of coffins for cremation/burial and recommends that there should be no deviation from the minimum standard, as anything less, for example the use of ?body bags?, is unsafe.
?The Ministry of Justice and the Home Office have met with coffin manufacturers and the funeral industry about the potential to increase production of coffins in the event of exceptionally high demand.
?They have concluded that existing manufacturers could increase production by between 50 per cent (were there to be no limitations on choice of coffin) and 150 per cent if the range of coffins offered were curtailed.?
The industry association?s newsletter advises members to discuss using ?excavator operators? to dig graves in a pandemic and make sure they will be able to store fuel for diggers.
It estimates that cemeteries may need to use two years? worth of grave space in just a few months should swine flu deaths increase.
Lord West, a Home Office minister, has also discussed plans for a swine flu pandemic with Bill Olner, the head of an MPs? funeral group.
A spokesman said: ?The Government has been preparing for the possibility of an influenza pandemic for a number of years and we are among the most prepared countries in the world.
?We regularly meet with stakeholders to discuss contingency planning.
?Lord West recently met with Bill Olner, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Funerals and Bereavement Group. It was a routine meeting at the request of Mr Olner.?
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