Published: 05:30, 22 January 2022
Initial preparations are being made to potentially reopen a temporary morgue to house dozens of Kent residents who have died.
Kent County Council (KCC), which oversees coroners, will reopen a temporary place of rest at the former county workshops in Aylesford under plans costing £1m.
The Beddow Way site will initially be able receive up to 144 bodies as they await their funerals.
A KCC spokesman said: "We want to reassure everyone that, should this facility be needed at any time, the temporary place of rest will provide dignity and respect for those who have lost their lives and consideration for the bereaved."
The Aylesford morgue will eventually have the capacity to take in 825 bodies and could be operational 24 hours a day.
It comes in light of the Omicron variant and the latest UK government modelling about the rising absentees of hospital staff and other routine winter pressures.
An urgent decision was taken by KCC's Conservative leader Roger Gough (Con) earlier this month.
A KCC spokesman added: "The fact that we have again prepared this facility for possible use underlines the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and the other winter pressures.
“It also serves as a reminder that each and every one of us should continue doing everything we can to help save lives, protect the NHS and all our key workers."
A total of 5,793 deaths have been recorded in Kent, including Medway, to date, which is the highest number of any local authority area in the UK since the start of the pandemic in January 2020.
In addition, 434 patients who have coronavirus are being treated in Kent hospitals, including 113 in Medway, after catching the respiratory illness.
Meanwhile, Kent residents have been urged to come forward for vaccinations and booster jabs.
They have been advised by KCC to sanitise hands, keep rooms ventilated when socialising inside and take regular lateral flow tests, even if they have had their jabs.
A KCC spokesman said: “The multi-agency partners of the Kent Resilience Forum (KRF) took the decision to set up the Aylesford Temporary Place of Rest in case it is needed in 2022 to support the county’s existing mortuary space.
“The KRF’s death management process group, which includes the NHS, funeral directors and faith groups, and led by KCC, has asked that the Beddow Way facility be prepared to be operational to less than 20% of its capacity from mid-January onwards."
Morgue storage will be set up at the Aylesford site, along with IT, temporary structures and equipment. Staff are expected to be hired, including security.
At the moment, funeral directors say they are coping well.
Rick Moore of Family Funerals, in Beverly Road, Barming, said: "We have been busy, but the winter is always a busy time of year for us.
"We have five branches we have have plenty of capacity, which wasn't the case at the peak of Covid.
"To be honest, we are seeing very few deaths from Covid. I think some of the deaths we are seeing are the result of delays in other treatments that were postponed when Covid was at its peak."
Maidstone Borough Council said that its Vinters Park Crematorium was not receiving any unusually high demand and there was not a growing waiting list for cremations.
The Medway and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust said it too was coping with its own capacity.