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  1. ITV Report

West Country councils setting up temporary morgues as Covid-19 death toll rises

Cornwall, Plymouth and Wiltshire councils have already started building the facilities

Councils across the West Country are setting up temporary morgues to store dead bodies in the event of a continued rise in Covid-19 deaths.

Local authorities including Plymouth City Council, Cornwall Council and Wiltshire Council have already started building such facilities, while other areas are drawing up contingency plans.

Plymouth's Agaton Fort, a former Ministry of Defence site now owned by the council, will serve as a makeshift mortuary 'to cope with additional pressure' on cemeteries and crematoria.

But some local residents are not happy that it is so close to their homes.

Paul Marriott lives near the temporary morgue site in Plymouth. Credit: ITV News

My main concern is how close it is to my property. It's within walking distance, it's very close to a lot of elderly and vulnerable people. Putting a mortuary here is probably not a good idea in a densely populated area.

I think it's a harsh awakening that we all need to be very careful about what we're doing. Having this so close to my home is very worrying for me and my neighbours and any family who might want to visit or drop supplies off. Even walking my dog makes me nervous, I don't want to go anywhere near it.

– Paul Marriott, Plymouth resident
Sally Haydon is Plymouth City Council's community safety cabinet member. Credit: ITV News

Sally Haydon, Plymouth City Council's cabinet member for community safety, said strict hygiene rules will be followed at all times and the site will not pose a danger to the public.

This is just to prepare for the long haul really, to make sure we have everything in place should we need to use it. Throughout the country local authorities are going this way as a precautionary measure.

I totally understand residents' concerns. When we talked about this I took expert advice, I have been up to the site myself and I've been told once it's operating people will have showers, any PPE used will be taken away and burned, so there are no worries on that side.

I have written to residents and hopefully I've been able to reassure people that it is a safe site.

– Sally Haydon, Plymouth City Council
Part of Great Western Hospital in Swindon will be converted to a temporary morgue. Credit: ITV News

Elsewhere in the region, Wiltshire Council is leading a project to set up temperature-controlled storage facilities at Great Western Hospital and Salisbury District Hospital.

The sites will be protected by private security guards, with support from Wiltshire Police.

In line with government guidance, the deceased will be stored at these facilities for up to 28 days, before being taken to cemeteries and crematoriums in Wiltshire and Swindon for burial or cremation.

Deaths from natural causes or other diseases will be handled by independent funeral directors. All those who pass away will be treated with dignity and respect at all times.

– Wiltshire Council spokesman

The UK has recorded more than 1,200 coronavirus-related deaths, according to the latest figures from the Department of Health and Social Care.

Cornwall Council says it is anticipating a 'significant number of deaths' in the county and is making plans for a temporary mortuary.

We are making these arrangements in a calm and measured way and are not proposing to give further details at this time given the sensitivity of the issues.

However, we would stress that the gravity of these preparatory actions reinforces the message to all of our communities of the importance of observing social distancing and following the Government’s instructions to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

– Cornwall Council spokesman

The impact of coronavirus is being felt right across the country and all local authorities are having to take the precautionary measure of setting up temporary mortuary facilities to cope with additional pressure on the system. Given the sensitivity of the issue, we are not proposing to give further details at this time.

However, we would stress that the gravity of these preparatory actions reinforces the importance of observing social distancing and we would remind all of our communities to please follow the Government’s instructions to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

– Devon County Council spokesman