Hong Kong’s largest mortuary is aiming to cope with an increasing demand for storage and provide more advanced forensic tools, as a surge in Covid-19 infections has led to a rise in related deaths in the city.
Department of Health consultant and forensic pathologist Dr Poon Wai-ming on Wednesday said the New Territories (Sha Tin) Forensic Medicine Centre, which can hold up to 830 bodies and opened last Thursday, would replace the Fu Shan Public Mortuary.
“Fu Shan Public Mortuary’s facilities are old and cannot meet a rise in demand so there is a need to replace them,” he said.
He said a total of 2,200 bodies could be kept in the new facility, the Kwai Chung Public Mortuary, the Victoria Public Mortuary and the old Kowloon Public Mortuary, which was on standby, as well as non-fixed storage spaces such as mobile refrigerator devices and double-deck trolleys.
An additional 3,000 places could be provided by temporary refrigerated containers during emergencies. The units were widely used during the fifth and most serious wave of Covid-19 infections in the first half of 2022.
Hospitals and mortuaries were overloaded with a huge backlog of dead bodies during the fifth wave, with more than 9,000 related deaths reported by the end of April.
Coronavirus infections began rising in Hong Kong in early November and after topping 29,000 at the end of last month, they have started to decline. Health officials on Wednesday confirmed 16,423 infections, of which 401 were imported, and 63 related deaths.
Poon said public mortuaries were facing huge pressures as they have had to process 50 bodies a day since December, up from the usual 30. In December, the number of bodies stored in the facility increased to 300.
But he said the situation was still manageable compared with the peak of the fifth wave, when mortuaries had to deal with 100 bodies a day.
“As Chinese people normally avoid holding funerals during the Lunar New Year, bodies were mostly stacked up during that period as only a few of them were being collected,” he said.
He said similar to the past few years, there would be 100 to 200 more bodies during Lunar New Year this year, but he was confident that the new facility could ease the burden.