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Temporary mortuary in former RAF base hangar as Norfolk coronavirus deaths set to rise

PUBLISHED: 06:00 14 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:20 14 April 2020

A hangar at the former RAF Coltishall site is to be used as a temporary mortuary amid predictions of more coronavirus deaths. Pic: Mike Page.

A hangar at the former RAF Coltishall site is to be used as a temporary mortuary amid predictions of more coronavirus deaths. Pic: Mike Page.

Copypright Mike Page, All Rights Reserved Before any use is made of this picture, including dispaly, publication, broadcast, syndication, web or any other form or reproduction, permission must be obtained in writing.

A temporary mortuary is to be created in a former aircraft hangar in Norfolk, amid predictions the county is about to approach the peak in deaths of people with coronavirus.

The mortuary, at the ex-RAF Coltishall base, now known as Scottow Enterprise Park, will be available within the next week.

It comes as modelling from the government’s health and scientific experts confirms the virus will lead to an increase in the number of people dying over the coming weeks, before cases start to fall.

That will put pressures on mortuaries, undertakers and crematoria, so extra capacity may be needed. Mortuary facilities at the county’s hospitals have also been increased.

But, if such facilities become full then, specialist portable buildings constructed inside a former hangar at the 600-acre Norfolk County Council-owned Scottow site, would have space for 100 bodies.

The hangars used to house planes when RAF Coltishall was operational, but one is to be turned into a temporary mortuary. Photo Simon FinlayThe hangars used to house planes when RAF Coltishall was operational, but one is to be turned into a temporary mortuary. Photo Simon Finlay

The mortuary will be staffed, with security in place at all times when it is closed and letters are being sent to people in the nearby village of Badersfield to inform them of the plans.

Council leaders say that all public health advice is being followed and there is no health risk to local people.

Mortuaries are normally only used for the relatively brief period of time between a person’s death and the arrangement of their funeral - and council bosses have already told people that funerals will need to take place swiftly during the pandemic.

Dr Louise Smith, director of public health in Norfolk, said: “We should feel confident that the efforts we are all making to stay at home, protect our NHS, and save lives are contributing to the national effort to increase our capacity to treat those most vulnerable to this virus and prevent as many deaths as possible.

“But we’ve never hidden from the sad reality that, although most of us are going to pull through this, some people will die from coronavirus.

“And the hard fact is that we need to plan for an increase in deaths in the county and provide the appropriate space to make practical and dignified arrangements for this.”

Arrangements have been made so that vehicles visiting the site will use on an entrance off Scottow Road so they do not have to travel through the village of Badersfield.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “These are such difficult times for so many people in Norfolk and sadly we know that more people will lose loved ones in the days and weeks ahead from this dreadful virus.

“Setting up a temporary mortuary isn’t something that we ever wanted to have to do but it has become an essential part of our work in restricting its spread, mirroring what’s been done elsewhere in the country.

Louise Smith, director of public hin Norfolk. Picture: Ella WilkinsonLouise Smith, director of public hin Norfolk. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

“Doing this will mean that we can treat those who have died with the dignity and respect they deserve in these exceptional circumstances for us all.

“I would also like to add it’s never been more important that we all follow the guidance on only going out for essential reasons, we keep our distance to stay safe and well to support the vital work being done by the NHS and all the people working in the front line of social care.”

Nigel Dixon, county councillor for Hoveton and Stalham division, said: “I fully understand the need to provide this temporary mortuary.

This might be difficult news for those living near the Enterprise Park, but I hope they understand that these are challenging times and Scottow will be playing an essential role in making sure that those who sadly die will receive the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Anyone with questions can email Norfolk County Council at mpcg@norfolk.gov.uk or call 0344 800 8020.

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