A confidential document from the British government's Home Office reveals plans are falling into place to deal with an estimated bird flu pandemic death more than double the previous 'official' estimates made public.
The British government now rates the likelihood of a bird flu pandemic as "very likely", killing some 650,000 people, with previous governments estimates of fatalities around 320,000.
Plans involve the digging of mass graves and using shipping containers to store stacks of corpses, waiting for burial.
From the UK Telegraph :
With such a massive death toll, during a pandemic wave expected to last some six to ten weeks, you would presume few deaths would be investigated. Authorities would be flat out getting the bodies into graves before they started spreading diseases and making town centres unliveable.
The alarming prediction is contained in a confidential Home Office document drawn up to help councils and other organisations deal with a catastrophic outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus.
With such a huge death toll, it says cemeteries would be under enormous pressure.
"Inflatable structures" and containerised storage "like those used at ports and freight terminals" could be used as makeshift mortuaries to store bodies before they are buried. The Department of Health advises that refrigerated vehicles and trailers should not be used – but admits that this may not be possible during a pandemic.
Large-scale "common graves" would be needed to accommodate the mountain of bodies, and ensure burials were carried out swiftly.
However the document, called "Planning for a Possible Influenza Pandemic – A Framework for Planners Preparing to Manage Deaths", says the process "would still allow for individual burial plots and marking of graves".
The wishes of families should be considered when planning the graves, the draft guidance says.
They should be "deep enough to allow for additional family burials – but not too deep or densely used to make difficult the removal and re-interment of the remains elsewhere, if this is requested at a later date".
In addition, the choice of coffins and types of funeral services will be limited in an attempt to help manufacturers meet the demand, and chapel services will be "basic and shorter".
Coffins for cremations will have to be re-used if there is a shortage.
The report is being sent out to all organisations that will be involved in preparing for a pandemic, including faith groups.
Other proposals contained in the paper include suspending exhumation powers and coroner's juries and cancelling inquests into deaths from natural causes in prisons.
The Home Office's report and guidelines are similar to those already distributed to local governments and councils across Australia and the United States.Some of the most important details of these very similar reports have come from examinations of how various cities in the United States dealt with the high death toll from the last avian influenza pandemic - that of 1918, when hundreds of thousands of Americans died. There is a consensus in many of the reports and guidelines of the need to find a balance between getting the bodies into the ground as soon as possible, but allowing family members time for shortened religious ceremonies as part of those burials.