Covid: Funeral director warns 'worst is yet to come' as daily burials up tenfold in one Muslim cemetery

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent John Ray

A funeral director, who has seen 85% of her burials from Covid-19, has warned her profession is "in the eye of a storm" during the second wave of the pandemic.

It comes as ITV News has found there has been a tenfold daily rise - now 20 burials a day - in one of the main Muslim cemeteries in London.

Hasina Zaman, shows ITV News Correspondent John Ray a store room full of 30 coffins.

Usually it would take just over two months for the coffins to be used - now it's a matter of two weeks, which further demonstrates the bleak realities hitting families and funeral businesses.

Deep level of Covid-19 trauma is setting in as 85% of her funerals are for deaths from coronavirus.

Ms Zaman tells ITV News: "We are in the eye of the storm. And the storm is going to be here for the next two weeks, possibly the next month, possibly six weeks - and we have to be here to look after people."

ITV News learned that in one Muslim cemetery a few families buried more than one family member. 

Mahir Rahman, was at Epsom cemetery as his family buried his grandmother, he told ITV News: "It don’t hit you til it hits home, and now it’s the biggest eye opener I've had in my life. It made me understand how much of a risk we are all at."

He explains how he contracted Covid-19 first and then it spread to his brother, his mother, and his aunty.

His dad has also recently been admitted into hospital with Covid-19, where he has been critical in intensive care.

Mr Rahman describes the way his dad spoke to him when he was suffering with the virus in hospital.

"For him to be in hospital scared that he's going to die - that changes you as a person. So for me, it's brought me closer to God but it has also made me understand how much of a risk we are all at," he said.

As the Covid-19 UK death toll increases exponentially, ITV News has seen how the impact in this second wave is particularly great among the British Muslim community - where often entire families have been affected.

British Muslims have also been one of the hardest-hit communities from Covid-19, according to data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2020. ITV News first reported on this increased risk back in April 2020 when we visited a Muslim cemetery having to dig temporary ‘mass graves’ to cope with demand and we spoke to community leaders and medics about why ethnic minorities were being disproportionately impacted from the virus.

Issa Azam "This is only the beginning of the battle - the war hasn’t started yet."

Those are the words of Issa Azam, another funeral director whose phone has barely stopped ringing from the Muslim community in these desperate and painful times during the Covid-19 pandemic.

His personal front line stretches from mortuary to grave yard many times a day.

He also tells of his own colleagues, who have recently died from Covid-19.

He said: "I know at least two or three of them who have passed away from this Covid-19 because we are getting contacted directly from the family."

Jane Kirkup of Greenacre Cemeteries, which owns Eternal Gardens a Muslim cemetery ITV News filmed at, said a quarter of her staff were ill or self-isolating and therefore they couldn’t provide the service they want, despite staff having to work longer hours and weekends.

She said: "I think our team are frontline workers and essential workers. Across the broad the sector of funeral and cemetery, we need access to the vaccine to provide the services we do to the community." 

"We are helping families with their burials, we are up close and personal with them, sometimes hundreds in a day," she added.

For the past few months, a range of senior voices from the Chair of the British Medical Assocation, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, to some politicians to ethnic minority community leaders, have argued that because of the disproportionate impact of the virus on Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities, they should be considered an at risk group as the vaccine rolls out.  

Community leaders have also been working at grass roots levels to raise awareness of the vaccine in minorities.  

Around 100 mosques have used Friday sermons to encourage their congregations to accept the vaccine when it is offered to them.