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New York, with world’s highest Covid-19 cases, buries unclaimed victims in mass graves

The state of New York in the US now has more COVID-19 cases than any country in the world, according to the latest figures by Johns Hopkins University.

New York burial
Drone pictures show bodies being buried on New York’s Hart Island where the department of corrections is dealing with more burials overall, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in New York City, U.S., April 9, 2020. Photo credit: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The state on Friday, April 10, 2020 confirmed that 159,937 people have tested positive, pushing ahead of Spain, which has 153,000 historical cases and Italy, which has 143,000.

The total figure includes those who have died, those who have recovered, and those who are still undergoing treatment.

China, where the pandemic started late last year, only reported 82,000 cases.

The U.S. has also reported 16,500 deaths, second only to Italy, which has more than 18,000 coronavirus-related fatalities.

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On Thursday, drone cameras captured images of people in hazmat suits digging mass graves in Hart Island off the Bronx, in New York City, which has traditionally been used as a burial ground for those with no next-of-kin or who cannot afford funerals or burial plots.

Consequently, City officials have hired contract labourers to bury the dead in its potter’s field on Hart Island as the city’s daily death rate from the coronavirus pandemic reached grim new records in each of the last three days.

The city has used Hart Island to bury New Yorkers with no known next of kin or whose family are unable to arrange a funeral since the 19th century.

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Typically, some 25 bodies are interred each week by low-paid jail inmates working on the island, which sits off the east shore of the city’s Bronx borough and is accessible only by boat. That number began increasing in March as the new coronavirus spread rapidly, making New York the epicentre of the global pandemic.

There are about two dozen bodies a day, five days a week buried on the island, said Jason Kersten, a spokesman for the Department of Correction, which oversees the burials.

Before burial, the dead are wrapped in body bags and placed inside pine caskets. The deceased’s name is scrawled in large letters on each casket, which helps should a body need to be disinterred later. They are buried in long narrow trenches excavated by digging machines.

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“They added two new trenches in case we need them,” Kersten said. To help with the surge, and amid an outbreak of the COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by the virus at the city’s main jail, contract labourers have been hired, he said.

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