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Geopolitics

Italy To India To Brazil, How COVID Has Trivialized Mass Death

We've gotten used to too many people dying, and too many dying alone.

Workers of Rome funeral parlors protesting against the situation in Roman cemeteries, April 2021, Italy.
Workers of Rome funeral parlors protesting against the situation in Roman cemeteries, April 2021, Italy.
Alessio Perrone

-Analysis-

MILAN — I was recently alerted to an event I had missed here in Italy: A couple of weeks ago, as the government announced the easing of coronavirus restrictions and restaurant workers protested because Italy wasn't reopening fast enough, funeral parlors also took to the streets of Rome. It was "a funeral of funerals," they said.

With wreaths of flowers, hearses and signs of condolences, participants quietly marched near the Baths of Caracalla, close to the city's center. It was an act of mourning, a reaction to the staggering loss of life, yes, but also to the burial crisis that is taking place in Rome as a result.

With hundreds of people still dying of COVID every day in Italy, the capital's cemeteries and crematoriums have been overwhelmed. Crematoriums have waiting lists of hundreds of bodies. Some 2,000 coffins are stacked in improvised waiting rooms as they await their turn to be buried in the city's cemeteries.

Covid_Italy_funeral_parlors

Funeral workers with placards ""Apologies but they don't let us bury your loved ones "" during the protest of workers in the funeral sector. — Photo: Cristiano Minichiello/ Avalon/Avalon/ZUMA

The grief of thousands of families remains truncated as a result, and there's little indication that things will change anytime soon. In at least one case, the Italian dailyCorriere della Sera reports that a family has been given an appointment to bury a relative nearly seven months after his death. "We live in a city where dying, too, has become difficult," Paolo Conti wrote for the paper.

We have become numb to the mass death that occurs around us.

I was surprised to catch myself thinking that 2,000 coffins seem like a small number these days. Last week, we gazed mesmerized at the photos of mass cremations in India, as the country became the epicenter of the pandemic and went through a tsunami of deaths. In a spine-chilling quote, a Delhi crematorium worker toldScroll.in that at his workplace: "There are more bodies than wood" to cremate them.

Before India, the center of our attention was Brazil, where more than 4,000 people died every day, and where the agony mixed with fury at President Jair Bolsonaro's staggeringly bad management of the pandemic. Yet we forget that here too — among us! — hundreds die every day.

It must be one of the most distinctive characteristics of this phase of the pandemic. More than a year into restrictions, obsessing over how quickly we should get vaccinated, eager to savor our newly found lives, captivated by the incredible tragedies occurring in poorer far-away places, we have become numb to the mass death that occurs around us.

As Celso Ming recently wrote in Estado de Sao Paulo: "One of the consequences of this pandemic is the trivialization of death." People continue to die in large numbers, he pointed. And they die alone, without a funeral, company or last rites, departing for early oblivion and curtailing the mourning of their families. The rest of us, in the meantime, just accept it all — "as if it were a new normal."

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Engels-2 airbase in Russia

Alex Hurst, Anna Akage, and Emma Albright

Updated 11:45 p.m.

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