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Sweden Uses Containers, Ice Rinks to Relieve Overloaded Morgues as COVID-19 Deaths Continue to Rise

Swedish hospital staff have called the situation “strained” and “unbecoming”, with bodies lying head to toe and even on the floor.

As the number of deaths due to the coronavirus continues to rise in Sweden, capacity to handle more bodies is being built up around the country. In Gothenburg and Stockholm, Sweden's largest cities, refrigerated containers and ice rinks have been hired to handle the extra load, Swedish Radio reported.

This is to prevent an overload at both morgues and cemeteries until funerals can be held. Long weekends such as Easter holidays usually involve a higher load, as the dead tend to accumulate. This year, the morgues are facing extra pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The big bottleneck is that our mortuary is not properly dimensioned for such a large city that we are in. It is then important for relatives to arrange the funerals so that the deceased become coffin-bound and thus can be handled by the cemetery administration”, Gothenburg funeral director Katarina Evenseth told Swedish Radio.

Additionally, four refrigeration containers have been hired in Gothenburg, giving the city more storage space. Similar solutions are also available in Stockholm and Jämtland County. Temporary containers have been set up in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, despite having a much lower COVID-19 death rate.

“It will work great, there is no business there now, it's cold there and coffins can be placed on the hockey rink”, Evenseth said.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many burials have been postponed across Sweden, increasing the number of the dead left at hospitals. At Karolinska University Hospital in Solna, a cold storage room for food is being used as a temporary morgue, the newspaper Aftonbladet reported. At the university's premises in Huddinge refrigerated containers are being used to relieve the pressure.

“We see that the inflow of bodies is greater than the outflow. This applies to all hospitals”, Claes Ruth of Karolinska University Laboratory told Aftonbladet, describing the situation as "strained”.

According to hospital staff, they are bound to run out of space for the dead.

“This is not unbecoming. The bodies are lying head to toe, in some cases on the floor”, an employee of one of Stockholm's hospitals told Aftonbladet.

Sweden, which unlike most European nations has avoided total lockdowns and continued normal life with only minor restrictions, has seen more cases and deaths than its Scandinavian peers at 7,849 and 611 respectively.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven stated that while three regions are currently affected the hardest, Sörmland, Östergötland, and Stockholm, the rest of the country must prepare for the situation to deteriorate.

Worldwide, the number of those infected is slowly approaching 1.5 million, with over 82,000 dead. At the same time, over 300,000 have successfully recovered from the disease. At the moment, the US remains the worst hit nation with over 400,000 confirmed cases and almost 13,000 dead.

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