Coronavirus Norway: Low death rate means funeral homes are struggling

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Norway’s success in managing the coronavirus pandemic has left funeral directors struggling to make ends meet.

While some countries have seen their morgues overloaded with corpses in a traumatic symbol of their huge death toll, Norway has seen only 253 deaths from the virus and the demand for funeral ceremonies has dropped due to isolation.

Entrepreneurs say the foreclosure has also resulted in fewer deaths from other illnesses, meaning that the “elderly and sick” who “would have died under normal circumstances” are still alive.

Half a dozen funeral directors have already turned to the state for help, with some receiving grants in excess of £ 3,000 to cover rent and insurance costs.

Struggling to make ends meet: a hearse is seen in Norway where funeral homes have been forced to seek state aid as death rates decline despite the coronavirus pandemic

Erik Lande, head of a funeral home in southern Norway, said his family had never had to ask for state aid before in three generations.

“When measures against the coronavirus were imposed, it turned out that not only did it break the back of the coronavirus, but also other viruses,” said Lande.

“So much so that some of the elderly and sick people who would have died under normal circumstances are still there,” he added.

Usually, the company handles about 30 funerals a month, but that number dropped to less than 10 in the weeks after the lockout was made, he said.

On March 12, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg announced what she called “the strongest and most intrusive measures” the country has seen in peacetime.

These include the closure of schools, bars and many public spaces, a ban on sporting and cultural events and a restriction on travel abroad.

Since then, almost all measures have been lifted and the virus has been largely contained, unlike neighboring Sweden where 5,572 people have died.

Far from the excessive deaths many countries have suffered, Norway recorded six percent fewer deaths in May 2020 than in May 2019 and 13 percent fewer in June.

In Oslo, the Verd Begravelsesbyra funeral home received almost 37,000 crowns (£ 3,100) in government support because its business model was disrupted.

While there are enough customers, many have been left without a full funeral, which accounts for 60-70% of the cost, said director Henrik Tveter.

Large-scale ceremonies have been made more difficult due to the limits on public gatherings, while some chapels are too small to allow for social distancing.

Some countries have seen their mortuaries and chapels overflowing with corpses in a tragic symbol of the crisis (photo here, 45 coffins in a church in northern Italy in March)

Some countries have seen their mortuaries and chapels overflowing with corpses in a tragic symbol of the crisis (photo here, 45 coffins in a church in northern Italy in March)

In Alesund, in western Norway, Alfa Begravelsesbyra cut the working hours of its five employees and also had to seek government assistance after a 70% drop in income between March and May.

The owner of the company, Odd Sverre Oie, like his colleagues, believes that business will return to dark normalcy as the company reopens.

“We know that, given the age pyramid, a number of people will die in Norway this year,” he said.

“So we’re probably going to catch up in the fall when the flu and other similar illnesses come back.”

Official figures show that Norway has 9,001 confirmed cases and 253 deaths, with fewer than 1,000 people ever admitted to hospital.

Even during the worst week of the crisis in late March, only 16 people were admitted to intensive care.

More than half of the 253 victims were people aged 80 or over, including only 11 under the age of 60.

Denmark and Finland, both of which have populations similar to Norway, also recorded relatively low deaths with 610 and 329 respectively.

Sweden, which opted against a foreclosure and kept bars and restaurants open even at the height of the pandemic, left 5,572 dead – several times more than its Scandinavian neighbors for a population half that size.

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