Coronavirus: Second NI council works on preparing graves

Council workers preparing burial plots at the Sixmile Cemetery in AntrimCouncil workers preparing burial plots at the Sixmile Cemetery in Antrim
Council workers preparing burial plots at the Sixmile Cemetery in Antrim
A second Northern Ireland council has confirmed that it has begun preparation work at its cemeteries ahead of a surge of deaths caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The News Letter has already revealed that Antrim and Newtownabbey Council had begun digging plots at the Sixmile Cemetery to deal with a potential increase in deaths.

Now Derry and Strabane Council has also said that it is also carrying out “advance preparatory work” at its cemetery sites.

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In response to a query from the News Letter a council spokeswoman said: “In terms of cemetery provision, we are continually reviewing our emergency contingency arrangements to ensure that we can continue to provide this essential service at this challenging time.

“In addition to doing some advance preparatory work, we have also put into place a number of procedures and resources to support our cemetery staff and to provide the necessary cemetery provision required.”

It comes after Antrim and Newtownabbey Council confirmed that it had taken the drastic step of digging advance graves in case there was widespread sickness among staff at a later date.

While the council would not comment on how many graves are being dug, drone footage showed a large number of plots being prepared at their new Sixmile Cemetery site in Antrim.

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Social media comments on the ongoing work includes one man saying: “I wonder after seeing this will people stay at home?”

A number of diggers, dumpers and council workers dressed in protective clothing have been working at the Sixmile site in recent days.

Cemeteries across Northern Ireland have been closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

A spokeswoman for Derry and Strabane Council said: “The council understands that these measures are very difficult for many families who are grieving and want to visit the graves of loved ones, however council must comply with the legislation and we reiterate the message that at this time we must all stay at home to stop the spread of coronavirus.

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“Council has been working proactively with the churches and undertakers in relation to funeral planning and cemetery arrangements and communicating with them with regard to the restrictions in place around health and safety and social distancing and the measures put in place to limit numbers of people attending funerals.

“Undertakers have been advised to contact the relevant cemetery office in advance.”

Belfast City Council has said it is making contingency plans for any increase in deaths caused by coronavirus.

A spokeswoman said: “As part of its emergency response, council is making contingency plans for any increase in burials and cremations as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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“We are continuing to coordinate this work with the Department of Justice who have the lead responsibility in such circumstances, and are in regular contact with funeral directors and faith groups.

“This is an extremely sensitive time for families.”