Refrigerated containers for storing Covid-19 bodies are being rented, purchased, and explored across the country.
Not all district health boards have morgues, and many of those that do fear that the virus could overflow.
the Influenza pandemic plan of the Ministry of Health writing in 2017 warned that mass deaths could invade body storage and disposal services.
He suggested bringing refrigerated containers to prevent them from breaking down.
But the plan said that “care must be taken to avoid thawing and re-freezing the remains.”
RNZ asked every DHB in the country about their morgue capabilities.
The West Coast and Bay of Plenty DHBs do not have morgues, but rely on storage at funeral homes.
Bay of Plenty DHB bought and blessed two reefer containers last year to prepare for the Covid-19 deaths – one is at Whakatāne Hospital and the other is in Tauranga.
MidCentral DHB has also brought a container to Palmerston North Hospital.
And Waikato DHB brought three containers to Waikato Hospital last year to store up to 54 bodies.
The West Coast, Hawke’s Bay, South Canterbury and Southern dhbs have also planned to take containers if necessary in uncontrolled outbreaks.
Whanganui, Auckland, Waitematā, and Manukau counties did not respond to RNZ’s questions.
But overall, Auckland University Epidemiology Professor Rod Jackson doesn’t think our morgues are prepared for waves of Covid deaths.
“Nothing in New Zealand is prepared for a Covid outbreak, a major outbreak.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s morgues, hospitals, [or] primary care, “he said.
He hoped that the mass deaths would overwhelm all of these services.
IRS sales manager Glenn White has provided plug-in reefer containers, worth more than $ 10,000 each, to five DHBs and funeral homes during the pandemic.
“They bought them. We couldn’t reuse them if they had bodies inside, we couldn’t wash them and put someone’s food inside.”
Kiwibox has also provided a refrigerated container to a hospital for the storage of Covid-19 bodies.
Co-owner Greg Flynn was contacted last week to send another to a Pacific nation.
“They couldn’t find any action in Auckland, we’re just on the South Island so they called a bit. So they’re obviously thinking about that in case they ever get overloaded with Covid deaths.”
Morquip’s mortuary equipment suppliers have also provided refrigerated containers.
Co-owner Russell Griffiths said these were “equipped with shelves and shelves for body storage.”
He said there had been a growing demand for “body bags and stainless steel trays” during the Delta outbreak, not only from DHBs, but also from funeral homes, the New Zealand Defense Force and the New Zealand Police.
Thirty-one people have died from Covid-19 in Aotearoa so far.
Pūnaha Matatini’s model published in September (and which has not yet been peer-reviewed) suggested that more than 1,550 people could still die of Covid-19 per year in Aotearoa, if 90 percent of the population 12 years and older is vaccinated.
But that estimate drops to just 50 deaths annually if 90 percent of the population 5 years and older is vaccinated.