Addressing the funeral crisis

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Addressing the funeral crisis

Due to the surge of deaths and critically-ill patients from Covid-19, coffins and mortuary cabinets as well as funeral houses and cremation facilities have become seriously short. While the government has been patting itself on the back for quarantine actions since the outbreak of the pandemic in February 2020, the situation in the real world has been quite the opposite.

After the central quarantine authorities declared that the spread of the Omicron variant peaked last week, the number of infection cases came down. But the tally on deaths and critically-ill patients continue to rise. The number of patients in critical condition have hit a record-high of 1,315, and 375 died on March 31. Out of the 16,230 deaths so far, nearly half occurred in March alone. Deaths from a shortage of medical care have also surged. Public health authorities must pay special heed to experts’ warning about the daily death toll reaching 500 to 600 for the next two to three weeks. They predict that as many as 1,000 people could die a day.

As a result, funeral sites have become chaotic. Coffins and flowers are running out. Bereaved families living in Gyeonggi have to move to Gangwon to find a place for their funeral ceremony for their loved ones as they cannot find space in the capital region. Due to a critical shortage of mortuary cabinets, some areas have to rent livestock fridges to store the bodies. Families in agony have to accept such dire conditions in order to hold funeral services for their beloved ones.

Cremation sites are equally lacking. Families must wait hours for their time for cremation, sometimes until midnight. As a result, the funeral service period that is typically three days in Korea is now often being extended to six to seven days. The emotional pain and economic loss, not to mention inconvenience, have been excruciating. The government has extended the cremation hours and operational period, but that has been of little help. The government has not publicized the availability of burials for deaths from Covid-19 instead of cremation since the revision of the funeral guidelines in January.

Nevertheless, the Moon Jae-in administration is engrossed with self-praising its quarantine campaign. Moreover, the transition committee of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is busy drawing up plans to extend business hours of restaurants and cafes to midnight to ease social distancing rules further. Both the outgoing and incoming governments are paying little heed to the misfortunes of Covid-19. The government must solve the unheard-of funeral crisis to help the bereaved families be able to send the deceased with dignity and strive to treat critically-ill patients before it’s too late.
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