Gauteng province says it is preparing 1.5 million Covid-19 graves

South Africa’s most populous province is readying 1.5 million grave sites for potential mass burials, its top health official says, as coronavirus cases in the country begin to spike.

Coronavirus cases and deaths are on the rise in South Africa, and the country has now reported more coronavirus cases than any other on the African continent.

The new spike is being witnessed in Gauteng province, which had 75,015 cases on Wednesday including 478 deaths.

Across South Africa, 8,810 new cases were reported on Wednesday alone, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 224,665 including 3,600 deaths.

Dr Bandile Masuku, the health representative on the Gauteng province executive council, said the graves are being prepared, but he hopes they are not needed.

He expects the current spike will continue to worsen until mid-August, but if additional restrictions are put in place, the severity of the spike could be lessened with its peak pushed back until September.

Gauteng includes the commercial hub of Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria.

“We’re preparing over 1.5 million grave sites. It’s an uncomfortable discussion but it’s reality that we need to be prepared,” Masuku told journalists on Wednesday.

“I’m not suggesting we would be requiring them, but it’s important that the land should be available should we require it. We’re clear that we’re not expecting that will happen, but in any eventuality we should have all the protocols ready.”

Masuku said the planning involved the possibility of burying several people in one grave – to save on burial space. Many families will not be able to bury their dead if the death toll sharply rose, he warned.

“In other parts of the world where this was done, there is no single identification in terms of the headstone, it will be one headstone which identifies all of the people buried in that one grave. We have seen this in New York and Italy,” he said.

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