By Thom Morris
The Aylesford Temporary Place of Rest is now operational 24 hours a day as staff cope with the surge in deaths in the county from COVID-19
The Kent Resilience Forum opened the Beddow Way facility on New Year’s Day to ease the pressure on the county’s hospital mortuaries as they reach full capacity.
Assistant Chief Constable of Kent Police Claire Nix, who is also the chair of the Kent Resilience Forum, said: “The fact that a Temporary Place of Rest has had to be set up in Kent should serve as a stark reminder that the country is at a critical point and we must all understand how dangerous COVID-19 is.
“Many people are able to recover from catching the virus but there are many who sadly can’t. Hospitals and mortuaries are under increasing pressure and so it has been necessary to have a Temporary Place of Rest established in Aylesford.”
Since the new more transmissible strain of the virus spread through Kent, the county has seen a recent COVID-19 infection rate of almost 800 weekly cases per 100,000 people.
So far more than 3000 people have died from the virus in Kent and Medway and, in the last two weeks of 2020, more people died of Covid-19 in the south-east than anywhere else in England and Wales. Health providers say they are likely to face even greater pressure in the coming weeks.
The Aylesford site has the capacity to care for up to 825 recently deceased as they await their funerals. No post-mortem examinations will be taking place on site.
Director of Public Health for Kent, Andrew Scott-Clark, said: “The fact that mortuary capacity across Kent is now overwhelmed and that this temporary facility is in use shows us all the shocking reality that COVID-19 is a very real threat indeed.
“The new variant of the virus is thought to be up to 70 percent more transmissible than we saw in the first wave of the pandemic. We now have 19 symptom free testing sites across Kent and it is vital that we continue to identify anyone who tests positive in order that they can self-isolate and that we do everything we can to break the chain of transmission.
“I cannot urge people strongly enough that now, more than ever before during the course of this pandemic, we must all follow the guidance and stay at home unless we absolutely have to go out. We have to save lives, protect those that we love and relieve the overwhelming strain on the NHS and our care sector.”
The priority of the Kent Resilience Forum is at all times to maintain dignity and respect for those who have lost their lives and consideration for the bereaved.
KCC has a statutory responsibility under the Civil Contingency Act 2004 to take the lead in responding to humanitarian impacts that result from an emergency and has been working through the Kent Resilience Forum’s Death Management Process Group, which brings together a number of agencies, including Public Health and the NHS, Funeral Directors, Faith Groups, Coroners, Police, as well as council services including registrars, bereavement and environmental services.
Mike Hill, KCC Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services, said: “Along with everyone who worked hard to set up the Aylesford site, I am deeply saddened by the fact it has become necessary to provide additional mortuary space for the county.
“With a capacity of just over 800 deceased, we anticipate Aylesford will see us through the remaining winter months. We will of course continue to keep this under review.
“Meanwhile, staff at the facility are working 24/7 to ease the pressure on our hospital mortuaries and to ensure the dignity of the deceased placed temporarily in our care.
“In the face of so much loss being suffered in our communities, it is both shocking and heart-breaking that some continue to refuse to accept COVID is real.”
Assistant Chief Constable Claire Nix added: “The Government has been clear that the best way to support the NHS and save lives is to stay at home wherever possible. The restrictions are designed to reduce the infection – but they will only work if people comply.
“Those found not adhering to the rules will be spoken to by police officers and where appropriate fines will be issued.”