Zurich's biggest crematorium braces for more COVID fatalities
February 26, 2021

Zurich’s biggest crematorium braces for more COVID fatalities as cases surge

ZURICH (SWITZERLAND) – The biggest crematorium of Switzerland is bracing for a new spike in the number of coronavirus fatalities as new variants of the virus are driving infection rates around the country.

Zurich’s Crematorium Nordheim in Zurich handled as many as 860 bodies in December, 45% more than normal. With the virus taking its toll on the elderly folks, the crematorium was forced to extend its daily working hours and remain open on Saturdays as well.

In the country with a population of 8.6 million, the number of coronavirus cases has overtaken 500,000 with nearly 8,200 deaths.

“We were stretched to our limit,” said Rolf Steinmann, head of the funeral and cemetery office in Zurich. “Not just because of the number of deaths, but also because the uncertainty took its toll.

“We never knew when there would be a break in the numbers or if they would continue to rise,” he said.

Because of a crematorium in nearby Winterthur, the facilities in Zurich are not overwhelmed. However, the physical and psychological stress on seven staff of the crematorium has increased.

This month alone, 500 bodies have been cremated here.

“I hope the numbers won’t be like they were at the end of last year, but who knows,” Steinmann said.

“Hopefully the stronger lockdown measures and the arrival of the vaccine will help.”

In Zurich, 90 per cent of the dead are cremated, ensuring a steady flow of vans from care homes, and hospitals carrying bodies. Coffins are stored in the three cold rooms of the facility and they are later placed in one of the 30 visiting rooms where relatives can bid their final adieu.

After cremation, the ashes are gathered in urns, many of which sport the crest of the city, and sent to cemeteries or handed over to relatives.

“It is important for family members to have their chance to say good-bye,” said Steinmann, 58, who has been in charge of the service for nine years.

“It can be more peaceful and less traumatic, especially if the last time they saw the person they were in intensive care. It helps with the grieving process.”

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