By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Kent County Council has pledged to spend £11million on the installation of temporary mortuaries as its coronavirus emergency plans are unveiled.
A maximum of 3,000 bodies could be stored in three, new, morgue locations in Kent over the next 10 months. Urgent work on identifying sites has now started.
The current mortuary capacity has been deemed “insufficient” to deal with the forecast number of COVID-19 deaths across the county, including Medway.
Cllr Roger Gough (Con), the leader of KCC, said: “Our priority is to ensure that, at all times, that there is dignity and respect for those who have lost their lives and consideration for the bereaved.”
KCC chiefs have said they are preparing for a “worst-case scenario” and also following the advice of Boris Johnson’s Government. The mortuaries are expected to operate over varying time periods, lasting from 20 to 40 weeks.
Cllr Gough told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Kent is not alone in the need to make appropriate preparations for increased mortuary demand and we have a statutory responsibility to take the lead in responding to the coronavirus outbreak in Kent.
“We also have to plan, like every other authority across the country, for the worst-case scenario and to ensure that sufficient mortuary capacity is available should it be required.”
He added: “It is crucial that KCC takes these steps now so that we are prepared for all eventualities.”
On Monday, the Prime Minister was taken to an intensive care unit at a London hospital as his coronavirus symptoms worsened while the number of COVID-19 deaths in the UK totals over 6,000 today, with 89 in Kent.
A total of £11m will be invested in the installation of the three temporary morgues in Kent, which will be paid from Maidstone County Hall’s reserves. This was approved by KCC’s leader as part of an urgent decision on Monday.
The cash will be spent on security, body storage management, transportation services and site clearance, including decontamination and staffing.
Work started on Monday on the creation of a temporary morgue in Beddow Way, Aylesford, which is due to be completed by April 20.
A marquee with a floor space of 1,000 square metres is due to be installed in one part of the site. If called upon, the morgue will likely operate 24 hours a day, with 7-day coverage, to allow reactive responses to the ongoing situation.
Two other temporary morgues will be set up across Kent, but the locations of these have yet to be determined.
KCC’s main opposition leader, Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), said he “fully supports” the decision, but has called on Medway Council to enter into a “cost sharing arrangement”.
Medway council leader Alan Jarrett (Con) says that the local authority will not be able to share costs due to the council’s “insufficient” cash reserve level.