Corpses stored in refrigerated lorries

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Hospitals are using refrigerated lorries as temporary morgues to cope with a sharp increase in deaths caused by the flu outbreak.

Hospitals are using refrigerated lorries as temporary morgues to cope with a sharp increase in deaths caused by the flu outbreak.

As the illness sweeps the country, hospital managers in Eastbourne and Hastings, East Sussex, have had to store bodies in trailers. At Eastbourne District General Hospital, 60 bodies have so far been kept in an articulated lorry parked on hospital grounds.

The action is in response to more than 80 deaths between Christmas Eve and 4 January, 31 of which were caused by the flu virus. In the same period last year, 28 people died in total.

In Hastings, staff at the Conquest Hospital are using a refrigerated container as an extension to its morgue, which is now full with 44 bodies.

A spokesman at the Eastbourne hospital said: "This was always part of our long-term planning. We expected to be busy over the holiday period, especially with the millennium. It is an emotive issue but the question is, what is the alternative? We can't stack bodies up in the corridor.

"We have seen quite an increase in deaths linked to the flu virus. Using a refrigerated lorry is not ideal but it is the only way we can deal with the situation. We have tried to be as sensitive as possible with relatives."

Official figures published this week say the flu outbreak is worsening. According to statistics from the Public Health Laboratory Service, 144 people per 100,000 in England were diagnosed with the flu by their GP in the week ending 2 January, compared with 124 per 100,000 over Christmas.

The figure remains within the expected rates for winter, as an outbreak is only judged to be an epidemic when 400 people per 100,000 are suffering.

* A flu outbreak sweeping the Netherlands would affect up to 20 per cent of the country's 15 million residents in the weeks ahead, health directors forecast yesterday. The eastern provin-ces have already reported 260 cases per 100,000 people, according to the National Centre for Influenza. By contrast, the normal rate is 20 to 30 cases per 100,000.

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