Containers for storage of bodies arrive in Penang as Covid-19 cases mount

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A Kepala Batas Hospital staff walks out of a container which doubles as a morgue in Penang August 20, 2021. ― Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
A Kepala Batas Hospital staff walks out of a container which doubles as a morgue in Penang August 20, 2021. ― Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 20 ― Penang received its first 40-foot container at its Kepala Batas Hospital today to store bodies and is expecting another container next week.

Forensic Department chief Datuk Dr Zahari Noor said the containers were needed in the eventuality of morgues filling up as the number of Covid-19 cases in the state keeps increasing.

He said currently, the Penang General Hospital has one of the largest capacities for body storage where it can take up to 60 bodies at any one time.

“We are even storing bodies for Bukit Mertajam, Sungai Bakap and Balik Pulau hospitals,” he said in an interview with Malay Mail.

He said the hospital can even store up to 100 bodies per day if the need arises but due to the time it takes to release bodies back to their families, it hasto be prepared for any eventuality.

“We have to go through strict procedures and processes so sometimes we can only release about 10 bodies a day,” he said.

This would mean that if there are 60 bodies in the morgue, and they can release about 15 bodies that day, there will still be another 45 bodies in the morgue.

“Tomorrow we might have more bodies coming in so it is always good that we prepare more space before the need arises,” he said.

The forensics specialist consultant said this is what is happening in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur due to the high Covid-19 fatalities there.

He said the pandemic is a learning process for everyone and based on what Selangor and Kuala Lumpur experienced, other states are now preparing to face any eventuality.

A container which doubles as a morgue is pictured at the Kepala Batas Hospital in Penang August 20, 2021. ― Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
A container which doubles as a morgue is pictured at the Kepala Batas Hospital in Penang August 20, 2021. ― Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

He said each container can store up to a maximum of 40 bodies but he will be reserving it for 36 bodies for now.

“The way we are handling Covid-19 cases is like disaster victim management due to the high numbers of fatalities,” he said.

He said many other states in the country already have containers on standby so it is not only Penang or Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.

He pointed out that even Kedah now has three containers.

He said his plan is to have four spare containers in Penang for use during disasters and these can also be used whenever there is a disruption or floods or system defects in the morgues in the state.

“These containers are easily transportable so if there is a need by any other states, these can be sent over,” he said.

Dr Zahari inspected the container after it arrived and supervised the rehearsal of body management afterwards.

He added that the container was donated by preacher Ebit Lew.

Meanwhile, Penang is also preparing a site for mass burials.

Dr Zahari said there is now a committee in charge of arranging for mass burials of Covid-19 victims.

“We are now identifying a site and we are also prepared to separate it where one side is for Muslims and another for non-Muslims and each faith will get to conduct their respective religious rituals,” he said.

He added that it will be arranged so that the bodies will be buried in their individual plots.

“Of course, we hope that we do not need to resort to this at all but it is still something we have to be prepared for, we do not want to be caught unprepared,” he said.

As of August 19, Penang has recorded a total 359 Covid-19 deaths since May this year.

On August 18, Penang recorded a total 15 Covid-19 deaths and on August 19, a total eight deaths were recorded.

Dr Zahari said the hospital is still able to handle the number of Covid-19 deaths in the state for now but the workers in the forensics department are still overworked.

“Every department in the hospital is overworked and overloaded due to the pandemic and there are strict procedures to make sure that our workers are not infected,” he said.

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