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Coronavirus

Fall in French death rate eases pressure on makeshift morgue at Rungis market

A giant morgue set up in Rungis’s vast refrigerated hall will probably never reach its maximum capacity of a thousand places, as France's Covid-19 death rate continues to fall.
A giant morgue set up in Rungis’s vast refrigerated hall will probably never reach its maximum capacity of a thousand places, as France's Covid-19 death rate continues to fall. © AFP Thomas Coex
3 min

With the spread of coronavirus slowing in France, the country’s largest makeshift morgue at the Rungis food market outside Paris looks set to avoid hitting saturation point, as earlier feared.

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A giant funeral home set up in Rungis’s vast refrigerated hall will probably never reach its maximum capacity of a thousand places, reported French daily Le Parisien, after speaking to an unnamed source.

As of Friday, just under 800 bodies were stored at in the world’s largest wholesale produce market.

Paris and the Ile-de-France region are one of the areas hit hardest by the pandemic, with funeral homes overwhelmed by the number of coronavirus fatalities.

However in a press conference Friday, the head of France’s public health authority, Jérome Salomon, said the number of people in hospital had declined for a third day running, with the number of intensive care patients falling for the ninth day in a row.

The source at Rungis told Le Parisien: "We no longer fear saturation.” This marks a reversal from the morgue’s first few days, when “a spillover effect” saw bodies arriving from saturated mortuary chambers in the eight departments of the Ile-de-France zone that surrounds the capital.

“It was happening very fast…we had to anticipate in case we were overwhelmed,” the source added.

'Dignified conditions'

When the Rungis morgue opened in a little over two weeks ago, a French police statement said the warehouse would “allow bodies to be kept in the most dignified and acceptable conditions from a public health point of view”.

Family members have been able to pay tribute to loved ones in two reception rooms – lined with white marquee-style tents and decorated with plastic flowers – before the bodies are transported away for cremation or burial.

Social-distancing measures mean a maximum of 20 people are allowed inside a room at any one time.

A room at the Rungis market is prepared for bodies during the 2003 heatwave that killed 11,000 in France.
A room at the Rungis market is prepared for bodies during the 2003 heatwave that killed 11,000 in France. © AFP Thomas Coex

Following controversy over mortuary prices at Rungis, funeral operator OGF – in charge of the management of the reception of coffins – said it would cover the costs.

"The OGF group does not want to add to the pain of the families and announces that it will bear all the costs relating to this temporary funeral home, from this day until its closure," it said in a statement last week.

The coronavirus crisis is not the first time Rungis has been turned into a morgue. In 2003, the bodies of hundreds of victims of the 2003 French heatwave were stored in a 4,000m2 warehouse, refrigerated at 5°C.

 

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