Inside a British funeral home grappling with COVID

For British funeral director Matthew Uden, it had been a normal, busy winter.

Until the second week of January hit.

"About two weeks ago, it was almost like a flick of a switch and it suddenly turned very, very busy. There's been a lot of COVID deaths and the phone hasn't stopped ringing."

Uden & Sons usually arranges about 10 funerals a day during the winter. Now it's doing 15 or 16, with dozens more bodies awaiting collection from hospital and care homes.

"We're exhausted. We really are exhausted. And it was only last night my wife was telling me, you need to relax. You need to almost take some time out. But then I can't take time out. There's no time to take out at the moment, you know, so it's taking its toll. But again, I'm just so proud of, it's not just our firm. It's the whole funeral industry. Because people, you know, they do, they see the funeral industry. And it's a bit of a taboo topic. But what we're doing is we're very much front line. We're going out and seeing families every day."

During the pandemic's first wave last spring, Uden said it took a week and a half to arrange a funeral. Now, families have to wait four or five weeks, as mortuary and registry staff struggle to process the sheer volume of deaths.

Staff at funeral homes play vital roles in the battle against the pandemic, but often get less recognition than doctors and nurses.

For emblamer Mary Evans, clad in PPE, the gravity of the job is not lost on her.

"I think going forward it's very important for somebody to say goodbye and see their loved one at rest, looking as peaceful as they can.''

As Uden prepares for the 130 funerals booked for this month - including nine ''double funerals," of husbands and wives who die around the same time, he hopes the human cost of the virus isn't forgotten.

''They're not numbers, you know, we've all done it, we're sitting there watching the news and we'll talk about how many people have now died. But I don't think anyone is actually sitting back, and I don't blame them, to actually reflect on how many people that's affected and affecting.''