The new three-storey mortuary in Observatory is nearing completion and is due to open in April.
Transport and Public Works MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela visited the Observatory Forensic Pathology Institute on Monday to check on construction.
About 11 000 bodies arrived at the province’s mortuaries each year for examination – about 70% of them in the metro, he said, adding: “These numbers have increased significantly as a result of deaths due to the coronavirus.”
The new R287 million facility is being built by the provincial Department of Transport and Public Works. It is located at the entrance of the Groote Schuur Hospital and will replace the Salt River mortuary, which has been in operation since 1957.
Work started in April 2017 and it should have been finished nearly two years ago.
“The department was issued with changes to the scope of work, and construction was forced to shut down during the extended hard lockdown period due to the coronavirus,” said Mr Madikizela. There had also been delays connecting the utilities.
This new mortuary has 26 autopsy tables and 360 body fridges, compared to the 10 autopsy tables and 150 fridges at the Salt River mortuary.
“The building will be able to accommodate up to 100 visitors to the bereavement centre per day, up to 10 waiting undertakers and up to 20 students at a time,” Mr Madikizela said.
It would improve cohesion between the provincial forensic pathology services and the national health laboratory service while supporting UCT’s academic training in the field.
Deanna Bessick, the spokeswoman for the province’s forensic pathology services, said the mortuary might only be fully operational for health employees later in the year.
“The health department is, however, excited about working in a modern facility that will better cater to the general public, along with the additional scientific investigations that we will be able to perform in support of our forensic pathologists’ findings.”
A drop in trauma causes because of the Covid-19 lockdowns, she said, had brought some reprieve to the Salt River mortuary, which only took the bodies of those who had died unnatural deaths and not coronavirus cases.
“The new facility is designed to handle the large number of unnatural-death cases currently being admitted, with improved space, lighting, equipment and safety.”
Bringing the autopsy and pathology laboratory services together in one building would make it easier to investigate unnatural deaths, she said.