Temporary morgue for 1,300 bodies built in London as capital's death toll passes 10,000

The entrance to the morgue in Ruislip, north west London. Credit: PA

A new temporary mortuary in London built to hold up to 1,300 bodies is a "sobering reminder" of the crisis the capital faces as its Covid-19 death toll passes 10,000.

The recently built facility can currently hold 217 bodies, but will reach a capacity of 1,300 once building works are completed around January 20.

It took just over a week to construct the facility on the site near Breakspear Crematorium in Ruislip which will provide an additional 20% in capacity for public mortuaries in London, helping to relieve pressure on hospitals and council-run morgues.

It is the latest of a number of temporary mortuaries set up across the country, including at the former military hospital Headley Court in Leatherhead, Surrey, and at a former aircraft hangar at RAF Coltishall, north-east of Norwich.

The city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, declared a major incident last week as hospitals came under increasing pressure.

Security staff at the overflow mortuary at Breakspear Crematorium in Ruislip, London Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

The site is expected to receive bodies from Friday, with transport to the facility arranged by local authority mortuary teams and funeral directors to take the deceased to burial locations.

Since the pandemic began, 10,820 deaths have been registered in London where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, show that 492 deaths involving Covid-19 were registered in the capital in the seven days to January 1 – the highest weekly number since the seven days to May 1.

Westminster City Council chief executive Stuart Love, who is leading the pan-London response, said local authorities worked with faith communities in the capital to ensure all religious requirements, wishes and needs were met.

When asked whether he thought the temporary mortuary could reach full capacity in the current wave of the pandemic, he said: “We really hope it doesn’t come to that.

“From my point of view, we have built this really hoping it doesn’t get used to its capacity.

“This really is a visual, sobering reminder that we are still in the midst of a severe pandemic. We want to give people hope but we are not there yet.

Inside one of the storage units at the overflow mortuary at Breakspear Crematorium in Ruislip Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA

“This just re-emphasises the message of staying at home and looking after your loved ones.”

During the first wave of the pandemic, four temporary mortuaries were built in London to provide extra capacity.

Mr Love said those sites were decommissioned and a decision was made to open one hub in north-west London instead, making the process of storing bodies more streamlined.

The entire Ruislip site, made up of tented facilities with refrigeration units, has cost £3.2million, with the total expected to reach £4 million by March, Mr Love added.

“As the number of deaths have increased, particularly since Christmas Eve, we made the decision to build temporary capacity with the overriding principle of ensuring the dignity and respect for the bereaved and the deceased are maintained.

“It’s really important that people have confidence that bodies are being treated with respect.

“As mortuary capacity needs increase so do the risks around various elements of the system in storing the deceased.”