Coffins awaiting burial are lining up in churches and the corpses of those who died at home are being kept in sealed-off rooms for days as funeral services struggle to cope in Bergamo, the Italian province hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had killed 2,978 across Italy, all buried or cremated without ceremony. Those who die in hospital do so alone, with their belongings left in bags beside coffins before being collected by funeral workers.
In Bergamo, a province of 1.2 million people in the Lombardy region, where 1,959 of the total deaths in the country have taken place, 4,305 people had contracted the virus by Wednesday. The death toll across the province is unclear, but the situation has become so intense that on Wednesday night the army was brought in to move 65 coffins from the cemetery in Bergamo town and take them to Modena and Bologna in Emilia-Romagna.
CFB, the area’s largest funeral director, has carried out almost 600 burials or cremations since 1 March.
“In a normal month we would do about 120,” said Antonio Ricciardi, the president of CFB. “A generation has died in just over two weeks. We’ve never seen anything like this and it just makes you cry.”
There are about 80 funeral companies across Bergamo, each receiving dozens of calls an hour. A shortage of coffins as providers struggle to keep up with demand and funeral workers becoming infected with the virus are also hampering preparations.
“So you have to wait for both doctors to come and at this time, many of them are also ill,” added Ricciardi.
Stella, a teacher in Bergamo, shared the story of one of the deceased with the Guardian. “Yesterday, an 88-year-old man died,” she said. “He’d had a fever for a few days. There was no way to call an ambulance because the line was always busy. He died alone in his room. The ambulance arrived an hour later. Obviously, nothing could be done. And since no coffins were available in Bergamo, they left him on the bed and sealed his room to keep his relatives from entering until a coffin could be found.”
Adding to the torment is the fact that relatives cannot visit their loved ones in hospital, or give them proper funerals.
“Usually you would be able to dress them and they would stay one night in the family home. None of this is happening,” said Alessandro, whose 74-year-old uncle died in Codogno, the Lombardy town where the outbreak began. “You can’t even see them to say goodbye, this is the most devastating part.”