Brazil exhumes old graves to make space for surging Covid-19 burials

Country’s outbreak is the second-deadliest in the world averaging about 3,000 deaths, 75,500 new cases per day

Reuters April 02, 2021
Gravediggers wearing protective suits handle bags with bones during exhumations to open space on cement graves as new burials are suspended, except private deposits and children, at Vila Nova Cachoeirinha cemetery in Sao Paulo. PHOTO: Reuters


Brazil’s biggest city on Thursday sped up efforts to empty old graves, making room for a soaring number of Covid-19 deaths as Sao Paulo city hall registered record daily burials this week.

Gravediggers in the Vila New Cachoeirinha cemetery in the city’s northern reaches worked in white hazmat suits to open the tombs of people buried years ago, bagging decomposed remains for removal to another location.

Relocating remains is standard in cemetery operations, said the municipal secretary responsible for funeral services, in a statement. But it has taken on renewed urgency as Brazil suffers its worse coronavirus wave since the pandemic began over a year ago.

On Wednesday, Brazil’s health ministry registered its highest daily Covid-19 death toll for the second day in a row, with 3,869 people succumbing to the virus.

Brazil’s outbreak is the second-deadliest in the world after the United States, averaging about 3,000 deaths and 75,500 new cases per day over the past week - a rate that has climbed steadily since February.

Also read: Police blitz targets parties driving Brazil's deadly Covid-19 surge

Sao Paulo has also resorted to late-night burials to keep up with demand, with some cemeteries authorised to stay open until 10 pm. In the Vila Formosa cemetery, workers in masks and full protective gear have been digging rows of graves under flood lights and a full moon this week.

The city of Sao Paulo registered 419 burials on Tuesday, the most since the pandemic began. If burials continue at that pace, city hall said it will need to take more contingency measures, without specifying.

Brazil currently accounts for about a quarter of Covid-19 daily deaths worldwide, more than any other country.

Infectious disease experts warn that it will only get worse, given President Jair Bolsonaro’s attacks on efforts to restrict movement and a slow rollout of vaccines.


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