By Natalie Thomas
LEATHERHEAD, England (Reuters) - British authorities have had to set up a temporary morgues in some areas after local hospital mortuaries ran out of space due to a surge in deaths caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Britain has reported record levels of deaths and new infections in the last few weeks, fuelled by a new variant of the coronavirus which has caused a surge in cases, especially in London and southeast England.
In Surrey, to the south of London, the county's hospital mortuaries have reached their 600 capacity, meaning local authorities have had to start using a temporary morgue.
"To avoid patients who have sadly died being left on wards, or as we have seen overseas left in corridors ... when the mortuaries are reaching capacity, they contact the temporary mortuary to go and collect bodies," a spokesman for the Surrey Resilience Forum said.
There were about 170 bodies currently being kept at the Headley Court facility, a former Ministry of Defence site in Leatherhead, he said.
The temporary mortuary, which has space for 845 bodies, was first set up in April during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Britain.
"Over a twelve-week period from April to June, they dealt with 700 bodies. In the last three weeks, we've dealt with 330," the spokesman said.
Similar facilities have been set up or are being set up in London and Kent, also in southeast England.
Britain has reported more than 80,000 deaths - the fifth highest death toll globally - and in excess of 3 million COVID cases. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday it was a perilous moment for the state-run National Health Service, and hospital chiefs have warned that they face being overwhelmed.
(Writing by Michael Holden; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)