Norwegian funeral homes turn to the state to avoid an early grave

OSLO: While the COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the world, some of Norway's funeral homes have found themselves without work and have turned to the state for aid.

Due to declining mortality and cancelled funeral ceremonies, half a dozen Norwegian undertakers, according to a public registry, have turned to the state for help after the initial success of Norway's handling of COVID-19 left them struggling to make ends meet.

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For the Lande family, who have made caring for the dead their livelihood for three generations, this has never happened before.

"When the measures against the coronavirus were imposed, it turned out that it not only broke the back of the coronavirus but other viruses too," Erik Lande, now head of the family business in the south of the country, told AFP.

"So much so that some of the old and sick people who would have died in normal circumstances are still around," he added.

Usually the firm handles around 30 funeral arrangements a month, but after the introduction of Norway's semi-lockdown in March, that fell to less than ten in following weeks, with not a single one from COVID-19, Lande explained.

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To cover fixed costs such as rent and insurance, Landes Begravelsesbyra (Lande's funeral home), has received almost 32,000 Norwegian kroner (about US$3,400) of economic aid.

On Mar 12, Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg announced what she dubbed "the strongest and most intrusive measures" the country had seen in peacetime.

Those included the closure of schools, bars and many public spaces, a ban on sports and cultural events and a curb on foreign travel.

Since then nearly all of the measures have been lifted and the virus has been mostly contained, in stark contrast to neighbouring Sweden which is still seeing community spread.

COVID-19: As Europe slowly reopens, Norway stays stubbornly shut

RETURN TO NORMAL

Of the around 573,000 deaths linked to COVID-19 worldwide, only 253 have been recorded in Norway and this week the country said it had no COVID-19 patients on ventilators and only a handful in hospital.

Presumably thanks to the isolation of the elderly and social distancing measures mortality even seems to have declined.

Norway for instance had six percent fewer deaths in May than a year earlier, and 13 percent fewer in June.

In the capital Oslo, Verd Begravelsesbyra received almost 37,000 kroner in government support as its business model was disrupted.

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