Inside Switzerland's biggest crematorium as it struggles with Covid-19

Inside Switzerland’s biggest crematorium which has been forced to extend its opening hours as staff struggle to cope with the burden of Covid

  • The Crematorium Nordheim in Zurich is striving to maintain conditions for saying a peaceful goodbye amid a sharp rise in cremations
  • Photos show rows of coffins at the facility, which last month processed 860 bodies – 45 percent more than usual – and was forced to operate on Saturdays to meet demand
  • Across Switzerland the number of infections has surpassed 500,000 and has caused nearly 8,200 deaths

As Switzerland braces for a renewed spike in coronavirus deaths as new variants of the virus drive up infection rates, the country’s biggest crematorium is already under immense strain. 

Crematorium Nordheim in Zurich is striving to maintain the conditions for saying peaceful goodbyes despite a rise in cremations, which has forced the business to extend its opening hours. 

In December, the crematorium processed 860 bodies – 45 percent more than normal – and began conducting cremations on Saturdays as the virus took its toll, particularly on the elderly.         

Across Switzerland the number of infections has surpassed 500,000, out of a population of 8.6million, and has caused nearly 8,200 deaths.

As Switzerland braces for a renewed spike in coronavirus deaths as new variants of the virus drive up infection rates, the country’s biggest crematorium is already under immense strain. Pictured: Coffins in one of the cold rooms at the Crematorium Nordheim in Zurich

Crematorium Nordheim in Zurich is striving to maintain the conditions for saying peaceful goodbyes despite a rise in cremations, which has forced the business to extend its opening hours. Pictured: The coffin of someone who died from coronavirus as it waits to be cremated in the furnace hall

In December, the crematorium processed 860 bodies – 45 percent more than normal – and began conducting cremations on Saturdays as the virus took its toll, particularly on the elderly. Pictured: rows of coffins waiting to be cremated at the Crematorium Nordheim

‘We were stretched to our limit,’ said Rolf Steinmann, head of the funeral and cemetery office in Zurich said.

‘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 told Reuters news agency.

‘We were stretched to our limit’: Rolf Steinmann, head of the funeral and cemetery office in Zurich, said the psychological toll on staff during the end of the year was considerable. Pictured: Human remains at the Crematorium Nordheim

A crematorium in nearby Winterthur helped to prevent the bodies overwhelming the Zurich facilities. Pictured: Human remains at the Crematorium Nordheim

The Crematorium Nordheim’s seven staff struggled with the increased workload and not knowing how long the high numbers of deaths would continue for. Pictured: Metals remains are collected for recycling after cremations at the crematorium

A crematorium in nearby Winterthur helped to prevent the bodies overwhelming the Zurich facilities while the physical and psychological burden on the crematorium’s seven staff increased.

So far this month, the crematorium has processed 500 bodies.

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

Across Switzerland the number of infections has surpassed 500,000, out of a population of 8.6million, and has caused nearly 8,200 deaths. Pictured: A coffin is inserted into a furnace at the crematorium

So far this month, the crematorium has processed 500 bodies. Pictured: A coffin enters a furnace at the Crematorium Nordheim

‘Hopefully the stronger lockdown measures and the arrival of the vaccine will help.’

In Zurich, where around 90 percent of the dead are cremated, a steady stream of vans brings bodies from care homes, hospitals and private addresses. 

Coffins are stored in the crematorium’s three cold rooms and placed in one of 30 visiting rooms where relatives bid their final farewells.

Rolf Steinmann (pictured), head of the funeral and cemetery office in Zurich, said he hopes tougher lockdown measures and the arrival of the vaccine will help ease pressures on crematoriums

The Crematorium Nordheim in Zurich is Switzerland’s biggest crematorium but has struggled with a rise in deaths during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

After cremations, the ashes are put in urns, many of which carry the crest of the city of Zurich, and are sent to cemeteries or given to relatives

Afterwards, the ashes are put in urns, many of which carry the city’s crest, and sent to cemeteries or given 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.’

‘We know that life ends, but this job makes me humble and appreciative for what I have in life,’ he added.

The crematorium is striving to ensure peaceful goodbyes for families, despite the increase in numbers. Pictured: A coffin stands before a furnace at the Crematorium Nordheim

Coffins are stored in the crematorium’s three cold rooms. Pictured: The coffin of someone who died from coronavirus is pictured in a furnace room at the Crematorium Nordheim

Coffins are placed in one of 30 visiting rooms where relatives bid their final farewells. Pictured: A coffin lid is marked with a paper reading ‘Corona’ at the Crematorium Nordheim

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