Coronavirus: Paris police take over food market to store coffins

Employees prepare coffins for coronavirus victims at a funeral logistics centre near Paris. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - The Paris police department said on Thursday (April 2) that it had requisitioned a hall at a vast fresh food market to store the bodies of coronavirus victims already overwhelming funeral homes.

Police chief Didier Lallement said officials needed a site large enough to handle "current and anticipated needs" as strains on funeral homes "are likely to persist for several weeks."

Two visitation rooms will be set up for families to gather before the coffins are taken to cemeteries or crematoriums, where authorities have limited attendance to 20 people maximum.

The first coffins will begin arriving Friday at the Rungis market site south of the capital, and families will be able to pay their respects starting Monday, Lallement said in a statement.

About a third of the more than 4,000 coronavirus deaths reported in France have occurred in the Paris region, putting intense pressure on hospitals and their staff.

Officials this week began evacuating patients from intensive care units in the wider Paris region to areas of France less affected by the outbreak, hoping to move out a total of 150 people by this weekend, the ARS health agency said.

Hospitals are racing to free up beds as the number of patients in critical condition topped 6,000 on Wednesday, surpassing France's pre-outbreak capacity of 5,000 places in intensive care.

The government aims to have 14,000 intensive care beds available in the coming weeks.

France also reported Wednesday an additional 509 deaths in the previous 24 hours, the highest daily toll so far.

But those figures include only deaths in hospital, and do not yet take into account the scores of deaths that have been reported in retirement homes.

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