Sarajevo struggles with record number of deaths from COVID-19

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The Bosnian capital has been hit by record number of deaths from COVID-19 in March, prompting hospitals to warn of a lack of capacity for a rising number of patients and leaving funeral homes and cemeteries at risk of being overwhelmed.

Sarajevo city authorities have announced a stricter night curfew from Friday and the shutting down for two weeks of all cafes and restaurants in a bid to combat a spike in coronavirus infections, which followed the end of skiing and holiday seasons in mid-February.

Since March 10, health authorities have reported 6,553 new cases and 136 deaths in the city of about 400,000. Bosnia has recorded a total of 151,337 coronavirus cases and 5,773 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Asmir Hodzic, executive director of Sarajevo’s largest funeral company, Pokop, said the number of funerals had significantly increased in March compared with last year and even with the last two months.

“We have had in March so far on average 15 burials a day, of COVID casualties alone,” Hodzic told Reuters, adding the company had arranged funerals for 269 coronavirus victims from March 1-19, compared with 80 in February.

Hodzic said his company has been improvising to properly store victims awaiting burial, because its morgue has capacity for only nine coffins.

Sejid Koso, attending a friend’s burial on Friday at Sarajevo’s largest suburban cemetery, Vlakovo, said the situation reminded him of the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

“The situation is pretty much the same,” said Koso, who also buried his two cousins, both coronavirus victims, on Wednesday. “Sometimes I attend two funerals a day, so many people die, so many friends.”

Bosnia has not yet started a mass inoculation campaign due to a shortage of vaccines.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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